Many people plan to take a trip or have thought about taking a vacation now that summer is here. My wife and I have tried to prioritize having experiences together whenever we can. It’s just something we have both always enjoyed. From deciding what to do, to planning it, and taking the time to have some away time. It’s always been worth it! We’ve learned that when we spend money on experiences, we never look back and say, “I wish we didn’t spend that money…” We outline modern research behind why experiences make you happy, not things.
This post proves the science behind why spending money on experiences > things is the way to go.
On of the biggest draws to buying things is that our modern society is consumeristic. Not to mention, we are under constant pressure to purchase things that we don’t need because we’re told they’ll help us (fill in the blank). It’s no surprise that depression and anxiety are at an all-time high, especially among young adults who haven’t yet figured out everyone is trying to sell us something.
On the flip side, I also understand that you wake up every day to work hard, and you want something to show for your effort. You earned your money, and you can spend it how you like.
While that is true, what’s more important is to make sure you are spending your hard earned money on something that is worthwhile. Why spend your money on something that won’t make you happy? And what better way to find out than to look at what science says makes us happy.
A Cornell University researcher named Dr. Thomas Gilovich reached a powerful conclusion after 20 years of researching what makes us happy when it comes to buying things: don’t spend your money on things. They don’t make you happy.
Why? Things provide brief happiness, but it fades.
Here are three reasons that things don’t provide long-term happiness.
Simply put, we get used to things after we’ve had them awhile. Ever noticed that? At one point seems exciting but over time, it loses its zeal. The new car smell wears off. The shoes get dirty. Your watch becomes a part of your everyday life.
Our benchmark of what we “need next” keeps moving. As you purchase new things, new expectations form. It’s natural that once you have the base model of something, the next step is the model above that one.
Comparing ourselves to others isn’t going to get any easier. Sadly, “things” conjure up possession envy. It’s easy to compare what I have vs. what you have. Not to mention, social media amplifies this phenomenon. The reality is, there’s always going to be someone who has a nicer car than you or a bigger house. Who cares? Now that you know what makes you happy, you don’t have to continue comparing yourself to them.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” Gilovich said. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
The paradox of possessions is interesting because we do find brief happiness in buying things but it doesn’t last. It makes sense that we want to invest our hard earned money into something we can physically touch and hold.
But that’s wrong. It won’t make us happy.
Researchers have found that even though experiences tend to be “fleeting” that they make us happier.
Experiences have a way of changing us from the inside out. When we experience something, it becomes a part of our story. We see it as a part of who we are. It becomes a unique way of seeing ourselves in comparison to the rest of the world.
Physical possessions just don’t have that ability to shape us in that way. It’s hard to say that our possessions create who we are. We can’t be the accumulation of our things, but we are the accumulation of our experiences.
You may think that buying a nicer home will change who you are but it won’t. Hiking Mt. Everest will change who you are though.
Experience have a way of making us look at ourselves, not other people. Once you have an experience, you think of how they have changed and affected you for the better. You don’t compare your experience to someone else.
Another key reason Gilovich says is that “You can like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences are part of you. We are the total of our experiences.”
He says, “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich.
There are other reasons why experiences are better than things.
The sheer fact of anticipating an experience brings excitement and joy. The moment you begin planning your next adventure or vacation, you start expecting it. All the way through to the end, you will have experienced the anticipation and the completion of your experience that will lead to memories forever.
…And that’s a good thing. Because experiences can’t last forever, you can’t get sick of them. There’s always a new experience that you can look forward to.
Even if an experience is only a few days, we tend to cherish the moments because we know they won’t last forever.
Spending your money on “things” doesn’t always provide the same satisfaction. For example, if you have ever bought something that you thought was cool but then shortly after had buyers remorse, you know what it feels like to have regret about purchasing something.
We hardly ever do that with experiences. Why? Because we inherently think of experiences as more valuable. Experiences have a way of being “worth it.”
Researchers all over the world study happiness. The most interesting thing is that many of them have come to similar conclusions about happiness. It can’t be bought with things.
The happiness that you, I, and everyone else seek, may be temporarily satisfied by fleeting pleasures, but we’re better off pursuing experiences that give us a lifetime of memories.
I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t be able to tell me what you got for Christmas 5 years ago… but you could tell me where you went on a Christmas vacation or some other experiences around that same time.
I’d love to hear what one experience you plan on taking this year? Do you agree or disagree with this article?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below. I learn as much from you as you do from me.
Zack is one of the co-founders of FreeUp and is in charge of setting the strategy for the blog and managing the day-to-day operations. When he isn't plotting new ways to create awesome blog content, he likes to geek out about global affairs, ride motorcycles and can probably be found hiking somewhere during his days off.