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For Most, Money Does Not Buy Happiness

New research suggests that for many of us, the purchase of material items or life experiences does not improve happiness.

San Francisco State University researchers say that although prior studies suggest experiences create greater happiness, the new study suggests that certain material buyers — those who tend to purchase material goods — may be an exception to this rule.

The study is detailed in an article to be published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

“Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences, it will make you happier, but we found that isn’t always the case,” said Ryan Howell, Ph.D., an associate professor and co-author of the study.

“Extremely material buyers, who represent about a third of the overall population, are sort of stuck. They’re not really happy with either purchase.”

Researchers found that when material buyers purchase life experiences, they are no happier because the purchase is likely out of line with their personality and values. But if they spend on material items, they are not better off either, because others may criticize or look down upon their choices.

“I’m a baseball fan. If you tell me, ‘Go spend money on a life experience,’ and I buy tickets to a baseball game, that would be authentic to who I am, and it will probably make me happy,” Howell said.

“On the other hand, I’m not a big museum guy. If I bought tickets to an art museum, I would be spending money on a life experience that seems like it would be the right choice, but because it’s not true to my personality, I’m not going to be any happier as a result.”

Although the link between experiential purchases and happiness had been well demonstrated, Howell said few studies have examined the types of people who experience no benefits. To do so, he and his colleagues surveyed shoppers to find out if there were any factors that limited the happiness boost from experiential purchases.

The researchers found that those who tend to spend money on material items reported no happiness boost from experiential purchases because those purchases did not give them an increased sense of “identity expression” — the belief that they bought something that reflected their personality.

“The results show it is not correct to say to everyone, ‘If you spend money on life experiences you’ll be happier,’ because you need to take into account the values of the buyer,” said Jia Wei Zhang, the lead author of the study.

Reasons someone may buy a life experience that doesn’t reflect his or her personality include a desire to fit in or spend time with others, according to Zhang.

And researchers did find that material buyers feel closer to friends or family following an experiential purchase. That feeling of closeness, however, was not enough to counter the lack of identity expression and therefore provide the happiness boost.

“There are a lot of reasons someone might buy something,” Howell said, “but if the reason is to maximize happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience that is in line with their personality.”

Source: San Francisco State University

For Most, Money Does Not Buy Happiness

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). For Most, Money Does Not Buy Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/02/for-most-money-does-not-buy-happiness/69281.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.