This week in positive psychology: Material things can make us happy

Happiness research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Materialists, rejoice! – It’s long been believed that money can bring us happiness if we spend it on experiences, not things, but a recent study from San Francisco State University challenges that notion. Researchers discovered that “experiential products” like books, video games, or sporting equipment provide the same happiness boost but through a different mechanism. Experiences and experiential products both express our identity, but experiential products tend to enhance our feelings of competence and experiences bring us closer to others.

Happy words – A study out of the University of Vermont found that we have a universal bias for positive language. After asking native speakers to rank words for positivity, they analyzed 100,000 words in 24 classic novels in 10 languages.

Get your heart pumping – in a good way – A study out of Queen’s University found that exercise reduced the “facing the viewer” bias, where we perceive ambiguous figures as walking toward us (and thus more threatening) rather than away from us. This suggests that exercise may actually decrease anxiety by reducing our perception of threats in the environment.

No news is good news – A study out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that finding out early that you’ll achieve a goal – before you actually get the job or win the game – decreases positive emotion at that moment and when you actually achieve it. Researchers believe that we expect goal attainment to follow a particular script, and we try to repress positive emotion until the appropriate time (i.e., when the goal has been achieved).

Outside academia:

Perk up your workforce – A study by office supplier Viking found that companies with 50 or fewer employees can increase happiness by 35% by spending about $800 per employee on training and social events. They believe this shows that employers value their employees. In contrast, a pay raise of over $8,000 only increases happiness by about 3%.

Sunshiney day – A poll by Garnier Ambre Solaire found that Britain’s heat wave was making the country feel happier, healthier, and less stressed (surprise, surprise).

Edited photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk

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