By Christine Jackman
MONEY can buy happiness and the best investment advice may be as simple as the sports shoe slogan: just do it. That's the conclusion drawn by researchers who set out to identify what sort of spending made people happiest. The psychologists, from Cornell University and the University of Colorado in the US, compared ``experiential purchases'' -- things such as holidays, concerts or dining out -- with ``material purchases'' such as clothing, beauty products, stereos or personal computers.
``For many of us, deciding how to invest our resources to maximise happiness is a challenge,'' they wrote in a Journal of Personality and Social Psychology report this month. ``We wonder whether more money, more leisure or more stuff would make us happier.'' The researchers asked more than 1500 people to rate their reactions to different purchases in five separate studies.
When asked to rate one of their own recent purchases on a ``happiness scale'' of one to nine, respondents consistently rated experiences about one point higher than material purchases in terms of being ``money well spent'', ``contributing to overall happiness in life'' and providing happy memories. When they directly compared their experiential and material purchases, only 34 per cent said they were happier with material objects.
Even people on very low incomes said extra spending on holidays or concerts made them happier than buying objects for their personal use or around the house.
``Experiences make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretation, are a more meaningful part of one's identity, and contribute more to successful social relationships,'' the researchers concluded.
In Australia, experiential spending has fuelled a boom for companies specialising in adventure travel and ``unique experiences'' such as jet-fighter flights, swimming with sharks and race-car driving. ``These experiences have a cachet attached to them,'' said Belinda Wong, manager of adventure specialist Atomic Dog. ``There's only so much to say about your new sound system, but you can talk about jumping out of a plane at a dinner party and suddenly the whole table is impressed.''
After travelling the world for six months, Tricia Hannah was given a tandem skydiving voucher by a friend while visiting her family in Melbourne. ``That six-minute experience jumping out of a plane just ranked above everything else I've done,'' said the 33-year-old accountant, who now lives in Glasgow. ``When I met my friends the next day, the first thing I did was show them my skydiving pictures, rather than all those amazing cities I've been to overseas.''
The above story originally appeared on 12 JAN 2004