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The Backyard Blog

Unique take on popular topics, useful resources and financial advice by renowned writers, specialized experts and experienced bloggers.

experiences make us happier

January 20th, 2019

Why Experiences Make Us Happier Than Possessions

According to a 20-year study by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, buying things with the hope that they will make us happy is a futile pursuit. Things provide a transient happiness that fades quickly, no matter how expensive and rare they are. Spending on experiences instead of things is the only way to make ourselves happy on both the short-term and the long-term and here are the reasons why.

    1. Experiences are priceless.

    It is impossible to quantify experiences or to put them into hierarchies. They form invaluable memories that contain emotions, sensations, thoughts, desires, and much more. Moreover, experiences don’t expire like things. The satisfaction brought by a new purchase drops over time while the memory of an experience becomes more treasurable, although at the beginning its value is more subtle.

    2. Experiences help you discover your passions and purpose.

    Without spending money to engage in new, challenging, and exciting experiences, you will never discover the things that make you tick and that make life important to you. To enjoy your life and make the best of it, you need to know what you like and what excites you. This is a great way to upgrade the quality of your life and find your personal customized happiness. Experiences are thus direct investments in your happiness.

    3. Experiences widen your perspectives.

    Every time you do a new thing, you learn something that might prove to be important for your life and which could, directly or not, bring you happiness. By going out of the comfort zone, you grow in unexpected ways which will certainly bring a paradigm shift. Buying things, on the other hand, does not change you in any way, except maybe making you look good in the eyes of others. At a personal level, the value of possessions decreases rapidly.

    4. Experiences can be cheap, yet still rewarding.

    Doing something as simple as spending time in nature, picking up an instrument, or going dancing with your friends qualifies as an experience because it brings something enriching to your life, in an impalpable but nonetheless real way.

    5. Possessions don’t teach you life lessons.

    Experiences are worthy investments because they put you in contexts where you have the possibility to learn important life skills such as organization, collaboration, patience, commitment, effort, and motivation. However, experiences are also stimulating, which means that learning these lessons is fun. Any experience, from traveling to going to the theater, or signing up for a course, comes with a set of challenges, either mental, emotional, or physical, which ultimately makes feel like you are developing and becoming a better person.

    6. Experiences form memories.

    You will not remember the expensive clothes you wore years ago to a concert, but you certainly remember the experience of the concert itself and the emotions associated with it. A good experience is able to bring back pleasant feelings for a long time because experiences form our memories. When elder people recall their past, they don’t talk about the cars they drove or the watches they wore, but about the moments they spent with friends and families, and about the things they saw or they did. Unforgettable and pleasant experiences form memories that can make us happy for the rest of our lives, not just for a mere moment.

    Experiences inspire you.

    Although a car, clothes, or jewelry can make us excited at the moment of purchase, they can rarely inspire us or make us feel ecstatic. Experiences, on the other hand, concentrate a larger number of feelings, such as anticipation, excitement, inspiration, fear, joy, or gratitude. By making you surpass your fears, experiences give you the feeling of growing and thriving. Climbing a mountain might be an exhausting mental and physical challenge, but when you go back home you feel happy and strong for having achieved something remarkable. This is something that possessions can never provide you while growth and inspiration are the structure of happiness.

    8. Experiences contribute to personal relationships.

    It rarely happens that your family or friends really want to hear about your new car, dress, phone, or other purchase. However, they will surely find it interesting to hear you talk about a trip you’ve made, a movie you’ve seen or a sport that you’ve tried. Talking about possessions seems like bragging, but talking about experiences makes you look cool and interesting.

    9. Experiences are the glue of your social life.

    You can have many material things and be lonely, but you cannot feel lonely when you have many experiences. Usually, you have an experience with other people, either friends, family, or strangers who may become friends. The social value of experiences is a big element in your happiness. A common experience leads to common memories, which is a great bonding factor that makes us feel appreciated and happy.

    10. Experiences are part of your identity.

    Although possessions are also connected to your identity, they still remain separate from you and you can lose them and still be yourself. However, experiences are really part of your most profound self and can never be lost. They build your character and personality as you are precisely the total sum of your experiences. You are not your possessions, but the things you’ve seen and the things you’ve done.

    11. Possessions foster comparisons.

    There is a big desire to keep up with friends, acquaintances, or even neighbors when it comes to material possessions. The reason may be that it is easy to compare material goods and their value but it is almost impossible to quantify experiences. You can tell who has the most expensive car or the most luxurious engagement ring, but you cannot really assess whose honeymoon was more pleasant or whose movie night was more romantic.

    12. The excitement of purchasing things wears off fast.

    In psychological terms, getting bored of a thing that you wanted really bad is called hedonic adaptation, and it suggests that the excitement of buying something new fades quickly in the background of your life. By becoming a part of your daily life, a new phone or a car stop being interesting. As the happiness brought by the purchase evaporates, you develop desires for new possessions and this becomes a never-ending cycle.


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