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Cornell researchers discovered the secret to lifelong happiness—and it’s not buying more stuff

Two large studies of over 7,500 adults tracked in-the-moment happiness.

Cornell researchers discovered the secret to lifelong happiness—and it’s not buying more stuff
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels; Hybrid/Unsplash]

Buy experiences. Not stuff. Really.

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New research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology definitively shows that spending your cash on experiences such as travel, entertainment, outdoor activities, and restaurants will improve your happiness much more than any new gadget or outfit.

Studies have previously found that people generally appreciate experiences more than things, partially because our happy memories endure while our perceived value of material items plummets. This new research closely tracked happiness before, during, and after experiences and purchases in over 7,500 adults, thereby gathering in-the-moment happiness data. Researchers at Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas at Austin ran two large studies tracking happiness via text message and found experiencers to be much happier than those purchasing any items, and also happier than those not consuming anything.

This last point is key: Going out and doing stuff makes you smile!

“If you want to be happier, it might be wise to shift some of your consumption away from material goods a bit and more toward experiences—that would likely lead to greater well-being,” says lead author Amit Kumar, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.

The price of the experience is surprisingly unimportant. Experiencers of cheap outings (think a $5 ice cream cone) were even happier than the buyers of expensive items (think a $2,000 new laptop). You heard it here first: Go cheap and experiential. Have fun out there.

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