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The Spa Experience for Healing the Body and Spirit

The psychologist Ryan Howell and his team at the University of San Francisco have conducted several studies that show that money spent on pleasing experiences brings both short and long-term emotional and physical benefits. However, money spent on purchases, for instance a new car, can bring a temporary lift without any long lasting effects.

Experiential Purchase

Howell’s team describes experiential purchases such as the spending of money for massage or opera tickets as conduits for spiritual and physical health. They see experiences, such as the state of relaxation evoked during a massage or facial, as a way of creating an emotional reserve of what they call memory capital. That is, after a spa treatment, consumers can later reflect on the experience and reap emotional benefits and feelings of well-being.

With memory capital, experiences can also become more significant over time. Later recalling a couples massage they enjoyed during a vacation, individuals show changes on brain scans indicating pleasure. Recalling purchases of luxury items they’ve made, subjects showed no such changes using brain scans. The researchers also found that the amount spent on an experience or a purchase had no effect whatsoever on an individual’s well-being. People who spent nothing to sit quietly and observe a beautiful sunset experienced the same feelings of well-being as people who spent a great deal of money for a vacation spent touring vineyards in France.

Well-being and Health

Howell’s team has also conducted research showing that feelings of well-being caused by experiences lead to happiness and better health outcomes. In their study, the team defined health as a process in which life is sustained with a minimum of medical care. That is, individuals in good health can be free of disease or they can have chronic medical conditions with symptoms that are well-controlled with minimal effort.

The team found that feelings of well-being related to experiences had a positive effect on health, whereas the accumulation of material items did not benefit health. Effects on health in this study were measured using cortisol and other endocrine levels and biochemical parameters such as changes in blood glucose levels.

Well-being and Beauty

In his book, Beauty and the Soul, the psychoanalyst Piero Ferruci describes the importance of beauty for soothing the body and soul. Ferruci writes that being in touch with our spiritual side through an appreciation of beauty is more important for health than most people suspect.

In other words, the positive effects on skin’s clarity and tone from a facial treatment or an herbal body wrap, benefit much more than the skin. The experience of having beautiful skin and appreciating the results of treatment can also have a positive effect on spiritual and physical well-being.

Ferruci explains that experiencing beauty brings a new dimension to knowledge, and every experience of beauty teaches us something that delights us. This type of knowledge inspired by beauty is more passionate, alive and intimate than other types of learning. In addition, beauty, when perceived, greatly improves one’s relationship with the environment and the natural wonders of the world.

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