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Experiences bring more happiness than buying things, study shows

Vacations, theatergoing and other social pursuits invigorate, inspire, according to research.

February 16, 2009|Shari Roan

Money is an emotional issue, especially during economic hard times. Social scientists have always warned that, once a person's basic needs are met, money doesn't buy happiness. But if you're wondering, or maybe even arguing over, what to do with any precious discretionary income these days, a new study suggests how to get the biggest emotional bang for your buck.

Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that buying experiences -- such as vacations, going to the theater or renting a sailboat -- gave people more happiness than buying material things. The study, of 154 people ages 19 to 50, showed that experiences increase happiness because they are often social in nature.

In addition, experiences tend to make people feel more alive. "People report a sense of feeling invigorated or inspired," Howell said in an interview. Experiences may also yield more happiness because people are left with positive memories, a sort of return on their investment.

The study was presented earlier this month 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.

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s hari.roan@latimes.com

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