By Margarita Nahapetyan
Psychologists have discovered that people who spend their money on the right things such as going to the theatre, dining out or going on vacation, are more likely to be happier with their life than those who spend their money on material things.
The study, conducted by the researchers at San Francisco State University, has found that experiential purchases result in increased happiness and well-being because they satisfy a person's need for social connectedness and vitality - a sense of feeling more alive.
A lead researcher of the study, Professor Ryan Howell, a psychologist at San Francisco State University, involved 154 people with the ages between 19 and 50, many of whom were in full-time work, and asked them to write about either a materialistic object or life experience they had bought within the last three months. The participants were also asked to describe their feelings and environmental cues connected with the purchase.
When the experts assessed the participants' levels of happiness and satisfaction, they found that those who had spent their money on food, theater tickets or various trips, were feeling much happier than those who had purchased items like clothes or electronics.
In addition, most of the participants said that experiential purchases were more likely to be considered as money well-spent, to make them happy, and to make happy people around them. Surprisingly, as it turned out, experiences led to more happiness in others than materialistic purchases did. A sense of connectivity to others -- getting closer to friends and family - could be one of the reasons why experiences generate more happiness.
"When people spend money on life experiences, whether they also take someone with them or buy an extra ticket or whatever, most of our life experiences involve other individuals," Howell said. People were fulfilling their need for social bonding while having these experiences, he added.
The findings also revealed that purchasing experiences produced happier people despite of the amount spent or the income of the individual, and led to a longer-term satisfaction. "Purchased experiences provide memory capital," Howell noted. "We don't tend to get bored with happy memories like we do with a material object."
The scientist said that despite of the findings of the current research, many people are still sure that money can make them happy. He speculates that maybe the belief is still there because money brings happiness some of the time, "at least" when being spent on life experiences.
Most psychologists who study the phenomenon say that the initial joy of obtaining a new object, such as a new car, or a new computer, fades over the time as people become used to seeing it on a regular basis. According to Howell, people adapt to a new purchase in six to eight weeks, up to a maximum of three months. And as to life experiences, on the contrary, they still continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event has occurred.
The study was presented this week at an annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and will be published later this year in the Journal of Positive Psychology.