It turns out that it’s not whoever has the most stuff wins; it’s whomever has had the most experiences wins, and ends up being happier.
Say what? Aren’t we supposed to save all our money so we can keep up with having the newest of phones, TVs, and cars?
It turns out that while we used to think material things were the way to happiness, according to science, what will bring you the most lasting happiness are experiences — travel, outdoor activities, new skills, and visiting exhibitions.
We think because our brand new TV will last longer than a cruise to Bermuda, that the happiness we felt at purchasing the TV lasts longer, too. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
“One of our enemies of happiness is adaption,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who’s been researching the correlation between money and happiness for decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed, but only for a little while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
Because our new TV is right there, it makes it easier for us to adapt to it. But slowly, it starts to fade into the background as an electronic wallflower of our lives. Trips we took, and experiences we’ve had, start to become part of our identities.
Think about it: Which had a greater impact on you — that video game you got as a kid, or the family vacation you took to Greece? You know, the trip with stories that can still make you and your siblings laugh when reminiscing.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich in the study “A Wonderful Life: Experiential Consumption and the Pursuit of Happiness,” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
“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 a part of you. We’re the sum total of our experiences.”
Humans are highly social creatures, and meaningful social relationships contribute hugely in our happiness levels.
Gilovich continues, “One reason that experiential purchases tend to provide more enduring satisfaction is that they more readily, more broadly, and more deeply connect us to others.”
Our experiences make us who we are, connect us with other people, and bring us great amounts of happiness.
So, what’s stopping you? Take that money you’ve been putting towards a new couch and get on a flight for Thailand, sign up for a cooking class, or visit the next exhibition at a local museum. You’ll be much happier.