Although previous research has shown experiences create greater happiness for buyers, the study suggests that certain material buyers - those who tend to purchase material goods - may be an exception to this rule.
"Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences, it will make you happier, but we found that isn't always the case," said Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and co-author of the study.
"Extremely material buyers, who represent about a third of the overall population, are sort of stuck. They're not really happy with either purchase," said Howell.
Researchers found that when material buyers purchase life experiences, they are no happier because the purchase is likely out of line with their personality and values.
But if they spend on material items, they are not better off either, because others may criticise or look down upon their choices.
Although the link between experiential purchases and happiness had been well demonstrated, Howell said few studies have examined the types of people who experience no benefits.
To do so, he and his colleagues surveyed shoppers to find out if there were any factors that limited the happiness boost from experiential purchases.
The researchers found that those who tend to spend money on material items reported no happiness boost from experiential purchases because those purchases did not give them an increased sense of "identity expression" - the belief that they bought something that reflected their personality.
"The results show it is not correct to say to everyone, 'If you spend money on life experiences you'll be happier,' because you need to take into account the values of the buyer," said Jia Wei Zhang, the lead author of the study and now graduate student at University of California, Berkeley.
Reasons someone may buy a life experience that doesn't reflect his or her personality include a desire to fit in or spend time with others, according to Zhang.
And researchers did find that material buyers feel closer to friends or family following an experiential purchase. That feeling of closeness, however, was not enough to counter the lack of identity expression and therefore provide the happiness boost.
The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality.