Buy experiences, not things. This blanket statement is meant to provide the magical silver bullet to achieving true happiness.
There's just one pesky problem with this advice, as a piece in this month's issue of The Atlantic points out: Not all experiences are created equal.
Based on research cited in the article, social experiences -- ones we share with other people -- bump up our happiness quotient more than solitary experiences, which have the same value as things.
So is achieving peak happiness as simple as spending money on experiences with fellow humans? Not entirely. It depends what kind of person you are.
According to more research that digs deep into the relationship between spending money and happiness, one factor matters most of all: Money buys happiness when spending fits our personality. (That's actually the exact title of the study, published last year in Psychological Journal.)
University of Cambridge researchers identified five personality traits -- extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism -- then analyzed people's bank transactions in accordance to those traits. "We found that individuals spend more on products that match their personality, and that people whose purchases better match their personality report higher levels of life satisfaction," the study's authors reported.
Here's an example. Consider two people, one an introvert and one an extrovert. Give them the exact same amount of money, then send them off to either a bar or a bookstore to spend it. One will buy an experience. The other will purchase a thing. Will the purchaser of the experience be happier? Only that purchase corresponds to their personality. Extroverts were happier after buying drinks at a bar. Introverts were happier after buying a book.
The study's results can be oversimplified to the following point: No two humans are the same. We're all special snowflakes, driven by different motivations. And we're all made happy by different things.
So figure out which experiences -- or even which (gasp!)things -- bring you the most happiness. And when you've got some extra money to spend, buy whatever it is. No matter what anyone else says.