2009.02.18 Money can buy happiness if you love experiences

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

There’s nothing like being vindicated even if you’re vindicated by your own self. I speak of my guilt in planning trips on the cusp of the next Great Depression, even though I truly am happy to have spent the money on the experiences. There is always that twinge of guilt, however, that hangs like a little black cloud ready to rain on my parade of happiness.

But a short segment on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday made me think, Begone guilt! Regret no more!

I was dashing between schools Friday when I heard snatches of the Research News portion of the program. Host Ira Flatow was interviewing a psychologist about his study which concluded people felt happier when they spent their money on experiences rather than things. I’m a big spender of kooky things, but still, I thought, “My sentiments exactly.”

Ira asked if that could be extrapolated to buying gifts, such as for Valentine’s Day, and the psychologist, Ryan Howell from San Francisco State University, said yes.

So, instead of buying that red teddy bear with an “I Love You” balloon attached, you should have bought your sweetheart tickets to a concert. Instead of buying jewelry, you should have booked a reservation at a new and different  restaurant.

Luckily, David happened to listen to the same program so when I suggested we eat out Friday night, twisting his arm wasn’t too hard.

David is rarely eager to embark on any endeavor that requires spending money. I have long since decided not to let that stop me. Whether it’s buying Zingerman’s brownies or spending 10 bucks for the dinky little raft ride at Cumberland Falls State Park, I am all about the experience.

He’s happy not spending the money and I’m happy having the experience. I suspect he’s a little less happy about me spending the money, but the threat of a wedgie usually ends the under-his-breath mumbling and grumbling.

I listened to the podcast of the show later and was bolstered by further conclusions of the study which found that people who spent their money on experiences had an increased sense of vitality and vigor. They also had a sense of being connected with their social world and engaged in less social comparison.

For example, you might buy a pair of shoes and think they’re nice until you see your friend’s shoes and think they’re nicer. When you spend money on experiences, you’re less likely to engage in that sort of activity and less likely to have buyer’s remorse. You’re, as the title of the show says, Buying Into Life Instead Of Things.

Of course, the study only included 154 participants, hardly enough to be conclusive. But, you know how it is, take your vindication and validation where you can get it.

And when you hear about a study that only confirms what you’ve been living, it’s easy to think of lots of examples of how happy the experiences made you.

Snorkeling in the Bahamas tops my list. What a time that was. Swimming in the pool built into the side of a cliff at Arcosanti in Arizona—I can still transport myself to that budding experimental town where Paolo Soleri blends architecture with ecology.

A day trip on a boat from Homer, Alaska, to see a rookery and explore an island town. Skiing at Shanty Creek on Christmas Day and swimming at night in the heated outdoor pool while snowflakes fell.

The amazing pool at the hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I removed my sarong only to discover I was wearing my underpants instead of my bathing suit bottom.

Hmm, most of these memories involve water...heck, they all do. I wonder if that is significant.

Maybe it means you won’t find me floating in the sea of regret.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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