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Spend Your Way to Happiness?

Money and happiness: 5 ways your spending style matters.

Tip 1: Buy experiences instead of things.

Many people assume that filling a large house with possessions will make them happiest. So why might a cooking class or vacation getaway trump a new kitchen floor or TV?

In one recent study, Cornell University researchers found that purchasing an experience tended to improve well-being more than buying a possession, in part because people are more prone to comparisons and buyer’s remorse with material goods.

Also, objects tend to deteriorate with time, but experiences can create lasting memories. If you share lessons or dinners and vacations with others, the social connections can make you happier, too, experts say.

“Experiences are just easier to appreciate,” says Lyubomirsky, who didn't work on the Cornell study. “We are made happier by experiences. You’re more likely to recall it. It’s more likely to become part of your identity. You’re the sum of your experiences, not the sum of your possessions.”

People adapt faster to things that don’t change, such as material objects, Dunn says. But experiences offer more novelty and variety, which can extend enjoyment.

“Whereas cherry floorboards generally have the same size, shape, and color on the last day of the year as they did on the first,” Dunn says, “each session of a year-long cooking class is different from the one before.”

Tip 2: Consider that many small pleasures might be better than a few big ones.

Are you more likely to be happier if you save up for a few big-ticket items, such as a sports car, or if you indulge frequently in small things, such as lattes and manicures?

Saving up for a big purchase may be admirable. But in terms of happiness, “We may be better off devoting our finite financial resources to purchasing frequent doses of lovely things, rather than infrequent doses of lovelier things,” Dunn says. Research shows that happiness is more closely aligned with the frequency of pleasures, as opposed to the intensity, according to her.

Since frequent, small pleasures tend to be different every time -- whether it’s a beer with friends or a new book -- we don’t adapt to them and become bored as quickly, Dunn says.

Tip 3: Spend on others and not yourself.

Some research suggests that it really is better to give.

A few years ago, Dunn did an experiment in which researchers fanned out across the University of British Columbia campus and handed students a $5 or $20 bill. The students were randomly assigned to spend the cash on themselves or others by the end of the day.

In the evening, those who had been told to spend on others reported feeling happier -- even if they spent only $5 -- than those assigned to buy for themselves.

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