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"Buy Buy Blues" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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According to a Cornell University professor of psychology, consumers found that satisfaction with "experiential purchases" -- from massages to family vacations -- starts high and increases over time. In contrast, spending money on material things feels good at first, but actually makes people less happy in the end.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: overhead speaker in dep't store) "Attention Shoppers -- We have a special on happiness in aisle 5..."

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Money may not buy happiness, but science has at least pinpointed the kind of purchases that offer the most satisfaction. A new study out of Cornell shows that if you're shopping for good feelings, there may be ways to get more bang for your buck.

It basically breaks down purchases into two categories: "experiential" and "material." Experiential buys are the ones you experience like a massage, or a family vacation. Material purchases are things like flat-screen TVs, furniture, or jewelry.

The researchers tell us the most long-lasting happiness comes with the experiential ones. They seem to yield to selective memory, and get better over time. This type of purchase usually fulfills a quick set of expectations and usually makes it easier to decide upon.

Buying material things may give you a big jolt of happiness at first, but it can rapidly decline. You may not have full-blown buyer's remorse, but your happiness factor shrinks as you make comparisons, or think of how you might have done better.

There is one more dynamic -- how you regard a purchase. If you look at a material buy like a car not as a status symbol, but as hours of enjoying the experience of driving -- your long-term happiness will be greater.

As you buy your way out of the blues, we wish you happy shopping.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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