Researchers studied the ways spending affects our happiness. The results are eye-opening.
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It can be hard to resist a good sale.

Especially when they're so hard to avoid. The U.S., for example, has more mall space than any other country in the world. No matter which way you turn, bargains will tempt.


Retail therapy. It might fill your house. But it won't fill the emptiness inside.

But don't be too quick to unholster your credit card because science may point you in a happier direction.

A 2015 psychological study out of Cornell University looked at different ways we spend our money and the "hedonic payoff" — the amount of pleasure or happiness we get — of those decisions.

"Given a world in which consumers have limited discretionary income (that is, the real world for nearly everyone), an important concern is howthey can get the most hedonic bang for their bucks. Although the relationship between money and happiness has been the subject of considerable debate ... few would deny that the financial choices people make can influence their well-being. That is, perhaps money can make us happier, provided we spend it on the right things."

The researchers introduce their work with a memorable movie quote that embodies their findings:

GIF from "Casablanca."

In the 1942 film "Casablanca," Humphrey Bogart's character sends off an old flame with this bittersweet certitude: "We'll always have Paris."

It turns out our phenomenal human ability to remember can play a big role when it comes to making consumer choices that keep our minds in a happy place.

In a way, we're all like kids growing bored with our toys.

The researchers found that experiences can bring us longer-lasting happiness than things can.

Once our basic needs are met, bills paid, and savings set aside, spending what we have left on new experiences (versus new stuff) can actually make us happier people.

That might mean traveling in another country, exploring a national park, jumping out of a plane, enjoying a dinner out, visiting a museum, or even just catching a movie. When you pay for an experience, what matters is that you leave with memories.

Photo by jill111/Pixabay.

Why? Because as the saying goes, "We are the sum of our experiences."

Where we've been, what we've seen, and what we've done all help shape who we are. The same can't be said of the things we buy. The researchers say that's due to "hedonic adaptation," which, in short, means we get tired of stuff.

Children's discarded toys are an example of hedonic adaptation. Photo by Rod Ranglin/Flickr (altered).

While our material things may endure, says the study, they inevitably lose their luster. In a way, we're all like kids growing bored with our toys:

"Once we get used to them they provide very little in terms of lasting happiness, causing us to want more and more, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the 'hedonic treadmill.'"

But memories of our experiences stay with us and evolve over time. And with enough time, we may even find it easier to see silver linings in our disappointing experiences than in our disappointing possessions:

"It is hard to romanticize a car or computer that breaks down frequently, or a shirt or sofa that is uncomfortable. Experiences, in contrast, live on only in the mind as mental representations that can be altered, reworked, and made more favorable."

Plus, sharing experiences gives opportunities to learn and relate, not compare ourselves to others, as is often the case with material possessions.

So as you plan for holidays and birthdays, or even if you just have some spare cash and want to...

GIF via "Parks and Recreation."

...think about what's going to make you or your giftees happier in the long run: a lasting memory or an object that's destined for dullness?

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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