We tend to think that pursuing wealth or buying something we really want will make us happy, but research shows we would happier spending our money on experiences, not things.
According to Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, we adapt to our possessions after the newness wears off, but we remember experiences for a long time.
This is called “hedonic adaptation.” Once we become familiar with something, the initial excitement wears off and we lose interest in it.
One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. 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. – Thomas Gilovich
It’s probably not something you spend a lot of time thinking about, but you work hard for your money and want to put it to its best use.
Obviously having money has benefits and gives us status, opportunities, freedom, and the ability to buy luxuries, but you probably know people who have money and a lot of stuff and aren’t happy and poor people who are happy, so it isn’t everything.
Research shows that after a point when our basic needs are met, earning more money has diminishing returns. It’s how we spend our money that’s more important.
It’s not our fault that we keep buying “stuff”–we’re bombarded with advertising and pressure to keep up with the Joneses. We keep spending and getting in debt and piling up stuff but the cycle never ends. Over time things break, go out of style, and lose monetary value. Plus having more stuff takes up more of our time to take care of it. You hear a lot of people saying they want to “downsize” these days and that’s probably why.
A personal example of an experience being more lasting than a thing was a gift I bought my husband for Christmas–a Ferrari ride around a track. It didn’t cost much as I got it with a Groupon, but he had a great time and will remember it for a long time. You could argue he might’ve been happier if I’d bought him the car, which wasn’t going to happen, but the ride made a more lasting impression than a new sweater or tool for Christmas.
One reason experiences are more satisfying in the long run is they are more social and become part of our identities. Going out with friends and taking vacations creates more memories than the new pair of shoes sitting in your closet.
Many of us could probably benefit from getting out more often. It’s really important to have balance between work and play, especially when you work from home, like me, which can seem like all work sometimes.
Why not take a few minutes to write a list of things you’d like to do that will give you more happy memories versus acquiring more new things?
Here’s some things I like to do, but you can probably come with up better ideas of your own:
- Look up a friend you haven’t seen in a while and ask him or her to lunch.
- Try a new local restaurant.
- Get into cooking – try new recipes.
- Make plans to enjoy the latest movie/see a play at the theater.
- Get outside, walk in nature and try new trails.
- Try a weekly new adventure – scheduling it the same day/time each week will make it easier to keep to.
- Make time for you. Read a book, take a bath, write in your journal, mediate, etc., or whatever you find relaxing. It used to seem like an indulgent luxury to me to get massages and facials, but now I do them every couple of weeks and they seem like something I need now.
- Volunteer in your community–you’ll help others, meet new people, and have fun. I find volunteering really rewarding.
- Take a trip to a new place–if you don’t have the time/money to take an exotic trip, get away for a weekend or take a “staycation” and explore things close to home.
New Experiences Challenge You and Help You Grow – Challenges Make You Strong
I was writing this on a Sunday morning while the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon was being covered on TV. It was a cool, rainy morning and I was glad to be cozy at home still in my robe and drinking coffee. But at the same time, I had this feeling like I might be missing out on something. I don’t plan on running as I injured myself when I tried taking it up, but the people seemed like they were somehow living life to the fullest by pushing themselves. It reminded me of when I hiked my first “Fourteener” mountain in Colorado years ago. When I questioned why people do things like that, a guy I was hiking with said it’s because it makes you feel alive.
We grow by challenging ourselves. It’s easy to stay in our comfort zones and make excuses, but realize you may be missing out when you do that. Plus, when you try new things, you have more to talk about and you’ll be more interesting to other people.
I know a lot of people my age who say they “used to” do things but don’t any more and have excuses. Obviously if you can’t ski any more because of an injury, that’s valid, but when they say the reason is things like crowds and traffic, they sound old to me.
Consider investing your time and money in memories that will last a lifetime rather than buying something that won’t last. A lot of new experiences don’t cost anything.
You know the expressions: “The best things in life are free” and “You can’t take it with you,” they’re true. Many people eventually come to the conclusion that’s it’s how they’ve lived their lives that’s important, not how much money and things they have.
What make you happier? Experiences or things?