PhotoShopping -- whether it's for material goods or experiences -- doesn't guarantee happiness, a new study from San Francisco State University finds.

Earlier studies have found that experiences create greater happiness than material goods, the SFSU study finds it's not necessarily so. 

"Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences, it will make you happier, but we found that isn't always the case," said Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at SF State and co-author of the study. "Extremely material buyers, who represent about a third of the overall population, are sort of stuck. They're not really happy with either purchase."

Researchers found that when material buyers purchase life experiences, they are no happier because the purchase is likely out of line with their personality and values. But if they spend on material items, they are not better off either, because others may criticize or look down upon their choices.

"I'm a baseball fan. If you tell me, 'Go spend money on a life experience,' and I buy tickets to a baseball game, that would be authentic to who I am, and it will probably make me happy," Howell said. "On the other hand, I'm not a big museum guy. If I bought tickets to an art museum, I would be spending money on a life experience that seems like it would be the right choice, but because it's not true to my personality, I'm not going to be any happier as a result."

Happiness boost

Howell and his colleagues surveyed shoppers to find out if there were any factors that limited the happiness boost from experiential purchases. The researchers found that those who tend to spend money on material items reported no happiness boost from experiential purchases because those purchases did not give them an increased sense of "identity expression" -- the belief that they bought something that reflected their personality.

"There are a lot of reasons someone might buy something," Howell said, "but if the reason is to maximize happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience that is in line with their personality." He invites people to learn more about how their spending habits are affecting their happiness and contribute to further research by visiting his website,

The study is detailed in an article to be published in the June edition of the Journal of Research in Personality.

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