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Campus Beat

A Ticket to Happiness

Photo of a beach with an umbrella.Can money buy happiness? The answer is all relative, says Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell. He has found that the purchase of experiences -- such as taking vacations, going to the theater or renting a sailboat -- gives people more happiness than buying material things. Why? Experiences tend to make people feel more alive.


"People report a sense of feeling invigorated or inspired," Howell says, noting that his recent study of 154 people ages 19 to 50 showed that experiences increase happiness because they are often social in nature. The greater satisfaction can also be traced in part, he believes, to positive memories that qualify as returns on investment.


Last winter, Howell received international media attention for his research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The study, which will be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology later this summer, also demonstrated how the relationship between economic status and happiness is stronger in developing countries.


At SF State, Howell says his students are a big part of his own happiness. "I'd love to say all psychology students love to sit around and talk about psychological research, but I didn't find that to be true until I came here," he says. "That kind of environment inspires you."


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