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Money can buy happiness – or at least a good story to tell later

Quality time with a tortoise on a luxury getaway.

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Can material objects make you happy? Some people say yes and indulge in retail therapy. But experts have found that spending money on experiences can lead to greater life satisfaction.

When people look back upon their spending decisions, they feel more satisfied with the money they devoted to life experiences, compared with what they spent on material goods, says Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Dunn's research shows that experiences help the buyer feel more connected to their sense of identity and enable them to tell better stories. People are much more interested in hearing about the time you had to dive back into your jeep after a lion got too close while on safari in Africa than they are in hearing about your new high-end refrigerator, she says.

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Here are a few exclusive experiences that are likely bringing happiness to those who can afford them.

Private concerts

For wedding music that's truly memorable, high-net-worth people are writing seven-figure cheques.

The Russian billionaire Valery Kogan paid both Elton John and Mariah Carey to sing at his 19-year-old granddaughter's wedding, Britain's Daily Mail reported earlier this year.

Ms. Carey was paid $4-million (Canadian) to sing We Belong Together and other tunes, and Mr. John, "who never performs for less than £1-million," took home $1.63-million for a 12-song set; he dedicated his hit Tiny Dancer to the bride.

Booking agency Celebrity Talent International estimates it would cost a minimum of $500,000 to $1-million to hire the Canadian performers Celine Dion, Drake and The Weeknd; Bruno Mars's estimate is the same, depending on the location and scale of the event. If you're imagining a discount or free performance for a charity event, "Celebrities do not donate their time and always will charge a fee to do any event, project, venue or celebrity appearance," according to the organization.

Luxury cruising

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Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes cruising to the next level with its self-proclaimed "world's most luxurious" ships. The all-suite Seven Seas liners travel the world; itineraries range from seven to 131 days and include unlimited fine wines, gratuities and business-class air travel to the port.

For seven-day voyages, Mediterranean trips start at about $10,000 a person, while the base price for Alaskan cruises is $6,400 for a veranda suite.

The Seven Seas Explorer has just 375 suites and a guest-to-crew ratio of 1-to-1.38. Passengers can enjoy fine art, lecture series and lessons in the "culinary arts kitchen."

The two-bedroom Regent Suite, at more than $10,000 a night, is the largest and most luxurious on the ship, with two private balconies, a spa pool, a Steinway grand piano and a personal butler. The 3,000-square-foot suite takes up most of the top deck, and its occupants have free in-suite spa services and a private car with a driver and guide in every port.

Golf

Cypress Point Golf Club in Pebble Beach, Calif., is considered one of the most exclusive courses in the world; you must be invited by a member to play.

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Designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1928, the course has hosted international tournaments and is known for its location on the Pacific Ocean and its signature 16th hole, a par-3 that requires a 231-yard tee shot over the ocean. Golf Magazine ranks the course No. 2 in the world and calls the walk to the 15th tee "spiritual," amid wind, waves, deer and gnarled cypress trees.

Unique getaways

Truly Experiences offers high-end trips, including an around-the-world package for $68,200 (Canadian) and "Porsches on Ice: Swedish Ice Driving Adventure And Snow Safari" ($18,300).

Also on offer is the seven-day "Darwin's Enchanted Isles," a trip for two to the Galapagos. The $33,300 fee includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station, scuba diving with sea turtles and photo instruction with a National Geographic-certified photographer.

Space flight

For the ultimate in bragging rights, there is space travel. Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, claimed earlier this year that his company will launch its first commercial space flight by 2018. To become an astronaut you'll need $316,000 (Canadian) to secure a spot on the suborbital space-plane SpaceShipTwo.

At 15,000 metres, the vehicle propels up and away from its parent plane. The pilots then shut down the engine and the newly minted astronauts will enjoy unencumbered weightlessness for a few minutes before preparing for re-entry. Everyone on board will earn official astronaut status; NASA uses the threshold of 80 kilometres to award astronaut wings. To date, only 559 people have been to space.

Fine dining

Michelin stars were first introduced in 1926. The highest award, three stars, indicates "exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey."

You'll have to leave Canada to visit a star-rated restaurant, however; the organization doesn't send its notoriously secretive judges here.

There are about 120 Michelin three-star restaurants in the world, including 26 in France, where the organization is based. The two most recent are in Paris: Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, and Le Cinq, in the Four Seasons Hotel George V.

Le Cinq, under chef Christian Le Squer, offers a nine-course dinner for $488 (Canadian), with reservations available a few weeks away. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée offers a "Jardin-Marin" menu for $562. Both also offer a lunch menu for about $300.

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