Researchers studied the ways spending affects our happiness. The results are eye-opening.
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TD Ameritrade

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?

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Images via Canva and Unsplash

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Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Gates Foundation

Once upon a time, a scientist named Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in the medical journal The Lancet that he had discovered a link between autism and vaccines.

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