This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Happiness
60-Second Science

Money Can Buy Happiness Sometimes

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Tampa in early February, psychologist Ryan Howell said that money spent on experiences made people happier than buying things. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

They say that money can’t buy happiness. Ryan Howell believes that it can—sometimes. Howell is a researcher at San Francisco State University. He thought that maybe money matters if it’s spent on things that bolster our psychological well-being—activities that people truly enjoy and that enhance their lives in nonmaterial ways.

Howell recently presented his research at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Tampa. He recruited 154 participants between 19 and 50. Half wrote a paragraph about a recent experience they purchased, such as eating out or going to the theater. The other half wrote a paragraph about a thing they bought. Both also wrote about their feelings about what they got for their money. Turned out those who bought experiences reported significantly higher levels of feeling happy, and like it was money well-spent.

Howell says these feelings of well-being might come from feeling active and connected to friends and community. He also says we don’t get bored of happy memories, while we might get tired of a purchase. So the study challenges the old adage about money—because maybe money can buy happiness. If it’s not spent on just things.

—Cynthia Graber 

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