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Experiences Are Better than Stuff

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A study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February 2009 suggests that you can buy happiness. The secret is to buy experiences, not stuff. Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, recruited 154 participants between the ages of 19 and 50 and split them into two groups. The first group wrote about a recent experience, such as going to the theater or out for dinner; the second wrote about a purchase they had just made. The results indicated that regardless of the amount of money spent, doing things makes people happier than buying things. “We found out the reason they were happier was because their life experiences filled them with a sense of vigor, or energy, and a sense of being alive. And it also helped them connect with other people.”

It Appears All Spiritual Experiences Start in the Same Place in the Brain
In the first study of its kind, University of Missouri neuropsychologists scanned the brains of individuals with traumatic brain injury who reported having spiritual experiences, such as transcendence, a sense of universal unity, or complete selflessness. In each case, the researchers found that these experiences were related to a decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain and, more important, that the experiences were independent of cultural background or religious practice. (Similar studies reported in this magazine had focused only on Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns.)

The researchers say that our brains appear to be wired in a way that these experiences can be learned. Decreasing the activity in the right parietal lobe can be done in many ways — through meditation, for instance, or prayer, or simply by making a conscious effort. The key finding of this study, however, is that people in many disciplines, including peace studies, health care, or religion, can learn different ways to attain these “spiritual” states, thus finding new avenues to help themselves and others. The researchers stress that the study does not in any way aim at minimizing the importance of religious or personal beliefs; rather, it emphasizes that all people, regardless of religion or beliefs, appear to have the same neuropsychological capacity to experience these spiritual and human connections in a similar way. (University of Missouri–Columbia, December 2008) 


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