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One Easy Way You Can Buy Happiness

New research supports the value of spending money on social experiences.

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

Do you have a bit of extra cash you are willing to spend? It doesn’t have to be much. Or, are you looking for a boost in your happiness? New research reveals there's a solution to both questions at once. First, answer this question that has 3 possible choices.

Question: If you were given a small amount of money to spend, which of the following would you do?

(a.) Spend the money on a material possession such as a new outfit, new home furnishings, or an addition to one of your collections.

(b.) Spend the money on a personal experience such as going to the movies or a music concert by yourself or getting a massage.

(c.) Spend the money on a shared experience, such as a nice dinner with your partner or attend a sporting event with a friend.

Scientists have tested these three options and found that only one choice is superior for boosting happiness. It is choice (c.). Researchers Caprariello and Reis found that across 4 studies, it was the inclusion of others that was the key to happiness when it comes to spending that extra money. They framed it as “having,” “doing,” or “sharing,” meaning to spend money on a possession (having), on a solitary experience (doing), or on a social experience (sharing).

While the shared experience was the superior choice for building well-being, it turned out that both choices (a) and (b) were tied for a distant-second place. The solitary experiences were no more valued than material possessions.

How Your Character Strengths Can Help

Let’s put this research into action. Turn to your innermost, uplifting, core qualities to help you: your strengths of character. Here are a few ways your strengths can help you take the lead on this research finding.

1. Your creativity can spur ideas. Choose one person you’d like to spend more time with. Set aside 5 minutes right now to brainstorm a few ways you might spend money on a shared experience with them. Of course, include them in the brainstorm unless you want to make it a surprise!

2. Use social intelligence to decipher best fit. Your social intelligence strength helps you to understand the passions, preferences, and feelings of others (and of yourself). Use it to consider a social experience that would help you and a friend connect. Perhaps tapping into a mutual passion for good food by going to a nice restaurant or taking a cooking class. Or, tapping into feelings of nostalgia by doing an activity you used to love doing together years ago.

3. Your curiosity can ignite action. The exploratory part of you can ask yourself and question your loved ones this: What might be a fun and meaningful activity to spend time doing together?

4. Turn to humor and zest. While you are engaging in your shared activity, be mindful to bring forth your high energy, laughter, and playfulness. This will enhance the fun as well as the meaning of the activity!

5. Use kindness, specifically, the generosity element. Generosity is known as a dimension of the character strength of kindness. You can turn to your generosity especially if you're not sure what shared experience to spend money on. Research by Dunn, Aknin, and Norton has also shown that there is a happiness boost to spending a small amount of money on someone else, whether that be a friend, stranger, or for a charity.


Caprariello, P. A., & Reis, H. T. (2013). To do, to have, or to share? Valuing experiences over material possessions depends on the involvement of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(2), 199-215.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687–1688.