Why Spend More Money On Experiences Than Things

October 29, 2017

Even in rough economic times, you’ll always find yourself a little cash to spare. You have been working so hard, and you want to reward yourself for everything you’ve done as of late. Should you spend it on a material object like a piece of jewelry or an experience, such as a weekend getaway? Psychological research and science say that experiences like traveling make people a whole lot happier than material things. Keep scrolling down, to find out why it’s really better to “collect memories than things”.

We are inundated by the idea that money can buy happiness

Everyone likes to buy things – at least that’s what we think we do.  Like it or not, it is bred into us. Life in the 21st century is a consumer-oriented and fast-paced experience where media bombards us with the idea that happiness is just a matter of wearing the trendiest clothes, driving the finest car, buying the perfect house and posting status updates on the latest cutting-edge gadgets. Wherever we look, we are deluged with the same message – you need to BUY your way to happiness.

But, as the old and wise adage says, “money can’t buy you happiness”.  Wasn’t that the moral lesson of Charles Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol”?  In this 1843 novella, Ebenezer Scrooge had all the money in the world, and yet he was still a miserable and lonely old prick. Sounds eerily, familiar?

As recent scientific studies have shown, if you don’t want to end as miserable as Scrooge, you should be investing on experiences rather than things. Okay, science didn’t exactly put it like that, but you get the point.

The paradox of material possessions

A recent study conducted by the San Francisco State University discovered that people who spent their earnings on experiences were happier and felt their money was well spent than those who collect material things.

Ryan Howell – a psychology assistant professor of the said university – through his findings, discovered that the initial thrill of buying stuff like a new iPhone fades over time, as people become accustomed to seeing it on a daily basis.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich – a professor of psychology at Cornell University – also believes that material things only give people a temporary source of happiness. For years, Gilovich has been looking for a link between happiness and money. And after over a dozen of years of research, Gilovich reached a straightforward and powerful conclusion – do not spend your money on material things.

“We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed” said Gilovich. “But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them”, he added.

The problem with buying stuff is that the happiness they give usually fades quickly. There are 3 critical reasons why material things easily lose their charm:

  • 1
    People get used to new things – As stated by the experts above, what once seemed exciting and novel can quickly become the norm.
  • 2
    People keep raising the bar – New material purchases typically lead to new expectations. Then, as soon you get used to a new possession, you look for an even better one.
  • 3
    Keeping up with the Joneses – By nature, material possessions foster comparison. You buy a new car, and are extremely thrilled with it, until a neighbor buys a better one.

Yes, buying a new gadget may be fairly satisfying for a short while, but the thrill will ultimately fade away, and you find yourself back in the same place seeking the next material purchase to keep this kind of feeling going. Then, you keep repeating this cycle, until it becomes an addiction.

If this sounds anything like you, then you should stop shopping materials, and start buying experiences.

Experiences bring memories that last a lifetime

On the other hand, experiences, from minute encounters to epic adventures, provide bliss even long after the events occurred. What’s more, experiences like traveling can become a part of your identity. You are, after all, not your possession, but the accumulation of the things you’ve done, everything you’ve seen, and the places you’ve been to. Buying the latest Android Phone won’t change who you are, but taking a breather from work to hike a steep and scenic trail most definitely will.

So, instead of spending a fortune on a nifty handbag or fancy smartphone, I suggest that you spend money on experiences that will stay with you until your last breath. Traveling, hiking, learning a new skill and skydiving will last much longer than any ritzy jewelry or gadget. At least, experiences and memories last longer, when it comes to happiness.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” Gilovich said. “You can really 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 really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences”, he added.

In short, an object will become expired or old, eventually. However, memories stay engraved and will bring you joy every time you remember the experience.

Anticipation matters

Gilovich, though his 2-decade research, also found out that anticipation of an experience causes enjoyment and excitement, while the anticipation of obtaining an object can use impatience. In other words, experiences are pleasant and enjoyable from the planning’s first moments, all the way through to the dainty memories you’ll cherish forever.

Disasters are increasing

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the number of man-made and natural disasters taking place every day is noticeably skyrocketing. From tropical cyclones to wildfires, disasters are happening everywhere, changing people’s lives in a wink. And nobody, even the wealthiest people on earth, is safe from these calamities.

And you know what that means? It means a lifetime of accumulating things can be lost forever in an instant, whenever a disaster strikes.  On social media and local news, we see brand new cars get carried away by floods and houses ripped apart by tornadoes. Trust me, a single disaster can take away all your belongings in a minute.

Your experiences, however, will forever remain a part of you, no matter what happens (unless you have amnesia). You may lose your photo albums, but you will always remember the sunset you saw in Santorini, the activities you’ve enjoyed on your fist cruise, and the way you felt when you first climbed a mountain.

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Aldrich Infantado
Aldrich Infantado is a travel junkie and a writing aficionado who loves to share amazing travel tips to his fellow travelers.
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