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Happiness Tip: Want What You Have

Tornado Science, Facts and History

Life is not all about the haves and have-nots. New research reveals a more nuanced approach to life: Individuals who want what they have tend to be happier than others.

The study results, detailed in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, suggest one key to achieving greater happiness is to continue wanting the things you have. That is, keep those rosy first-time-buyer lenses in place.

The spanking-new iPhone or the latest digital all-in-one gizmo could seem like the best buy upon purchase. But over time, the greatest purchase ever can become so yesterday and, the researchers say, you will derive less happiness from that item.

"Simply having a bunch of things is not the key to happiness," said Jeff Larsen, a psychologist at Texas Tech University. "Our data show that you also need to appreciate those things you have. It's also important to keep your desire for things you don't own in check."

Larsen and Amie McKibban of Wichita State University surveyed 126 male and female undergraduate students who indicated whether or not they owned 52 material items, such as a car, stereo, rollerblades or bed.

Students who indicated owning a car, for instance, would then rate how much they wanted that car on a scale from "not at all" to "a lot." Those who didn't possess the item, rated how much they wanted it.

Results from the survey and questionnaires for life satisfaction and overall well-being revealed that students who wanted more of what they had were happier than individuals less fond of their possessions. Individuals satisfied with their possessions were also happier than students who owned fewer items from their "want" list.

The extent to which students wanted things they didn't own had no impact on happiness.

Jeanna Bryner
Before becoming managing editor, Jeanna served as a reporter for Live Science and for about three years. Previously she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a Master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a science journalism degree from New York University. Follow Jeanna on Google+.