Proof That Life Experiences -- Not Things -- Make You Happier

04/03/2014 08:49 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2014

If you're wondering whether to use your tax refund to buy that new expensive bag or go on vacation, a new study suggests your best bet may be the latter.

Researchers from San Francisco State University found that people generally know life experiences will make them happier, but they still choose to spend their money on material items because they think they're of greater value.

"We naturally associate economic value with stuff. I bought this car, it's worth $8,000," study researcher Ryan Howell, associate professor of psychology at the university, said in a statement. "We have a hard time estimating the economic value we would place on our memories."

For one of the experiments in the study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers surveyed study participants before and after they bought something. Before making the purchase, the participants said that they were aware that a life experience would bring them more happiness, but that it would make more sense financially to buy the material item.

But their opinions changed after making the purchase, researchers found. The participants said post-purchase that not only would happiness be greater with a life experience, but that the life experience was also a better value than the material item.

In another experiment, participants were asked to prioritize either value or happiness in purchasing something. Those asked to prioritize happiness were more likely to pick using their money for a life experience, while those asked to prioritize value were more likely to choose a material item.

"These results suggest that when people are considering material or experiential purchases they are balancing happiness and monetary concerns," the researchers wrote in the study.

For more reasons why things won't make you happier, click here.

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