Study: How Money Can Buy Happiness

You've heard many times that money can't buy happiness. That probably never stopped you from shopping. But a new study suggests you might want to spend more on doing things and less on stuff.

Buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them, researchers announced today at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

A meal out or tickets to the theater result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive, the researchers say.

"These findings support an extension of basic need theory, where purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being," said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

A survey in the journal Science in 2006 showed that income plays a rather insignificant role in day-to-day happiness. There are situations where cash helps, however, including for those who become sick or disabled, another study found; for them, money matters. Another study found giving money away can bring some measure of glee.

Participants in the new study were asked to write reflections and answer questions about their recent purchases. Participants indicated that experiential purchases represented money better spent and greater happiness for both themselves and others. The results also indicate that experiences produce more happiness regardless of the amount spent or the income of the consumer.

Experiences also lead to longer-term satisfaction.

"Purchased experiences provide memory capital," Howell said. "We don't tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object."

Howell notes that several studies going back at least 35 years show that money does not make people happy. Yet the belief persists that it will.

"Maybe this belief has held because money is making some people happy some of the time, at least when they spend it on life experiences," Howell said.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.