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Why You Should Spend More on Experiences Than Possessions

reflection of homes in Spain on water
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I couldn’t tell you hardly a single thing my parents bought me for Christmas or my birthday when I was growing up. But I can tell you each place we ever traveled. And what extracurriculars they made me join, even if I hated them at the time. I didn’t get video games or cable television growing up, but my parents did give me one of the greatest gifts of all: experience.

Experience is seeing the world, trying new things, and figuring out who we were and who we wanted to be. Experience is the gift that keeps on giving because each and every one molds you into the person you are today. My parents taught my sister and me from a young age that doing and seeing things is far more valuable than owning things, and it is a lesson I will never forget (even when I struggle with it sometimes).

Experiences Make Us Happier

The Easterlin Paradox, developed by Dr. Thomas Gilovich and other psychologists, shows that over time, people are significantly more satisfied with their experiential purchases than they are with their material purchases. Think about it. Would you be more excited to take a trip to Bali or to get a designer coat?

I absolutely adore clothes, but nothing compares to the thrill of going out and doing something incredible. It doesn’t even have to be travel! Just take a hot air balloon ride, learn how to make soap, or pick up a new hobby.

(Even Years Down the Road)

If this is hard for you to imagine, think back on a time when you did something exciting. Now, think of something that you were really excited to buy. Which one makes you happier now? For me, one of the adventures I was most excited to embark on was a family trip to Peru to see the Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu. To this day, when I peruse the photos, I can still feel the same adrenaline rush as I did when I was in that tiny, nausea-inducing plane or on top of the Andes mountains.

I was also very excited when I was about to purchase my iPad last year. I had done tons of research to pick the right model, and I had all the plans in the world to take notes on it and stay more organized than ever before. Don’t get me wrong; I love my iPad, and it’s the most high-tech, expensive notepad I’ve ever owned. But, does it *thrill* me when I turn it on and swipe through my pages of apps or jot something down in Word? No.

Even a Bad Experience Will Become a Good Story

One reason that experience makes us happier in the long run is that even a bad experience becomes a good story. Say, you get stuck in the rain at a concert and are soaked to the bone and literally everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. At least you can laugh about it later. Our memories are what sustain us and make us who we are, so no matter what actually happened with that experience, it’s still going to amount to something positive, in some way because “experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.”

Some people wonder, “What if I’m broke? When I get a little money, should I spend it on a sofa or use it to sign up for that foreign language class I’ve been wanting to take for forever?” Well, it’s up to you. If you don’t have a sofa, and you’re forced to sit on a bean bag in your living room, maybe you should buy a sofa. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. Grab one at a yard sale and try to save as much money on it as possible, so you can use the remainder of your money to buy an experience that you’ll enjoy, like learning that language.

Buying Things Never Leads to Satisfaction

This is a difficult concept to embrace for a lot of people, especially when you are dying to buy that rose gold Michael Kors watch. I’ve thought to myself so many times, “If I buy just this one thing, then I’ll be satisfied.” Has that ever worked out for me? Nope. Because according to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell, “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.”

Whereas with experiences, the exhilaration of doing them never quite goes away, even years later. I still remember the very first time I rode a horse like it was yesterday. I can’t remember a time where I’ve ever felt joyous about a material purchase several years after I bought it. Research indicates that this may be because “it’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them.” We know a visit to The Met or the Washington Monument isn’t going to last forever, and that’s what makes it so special. The best things in life are moments, and moments only last a short period of time.

I would much rather look back on my life when I’m old and gray and think, “Damn, I’ve done some pretty cool stuff,” as opposed to “What am I going to do with all this stuff?” Experiences are something that no one can ever take away from you. I mean, isn’t life just a series of experiences? I want those adventures to be as memorable and as breathtaking and as terrifying as possible because if you don’t ever invest in anything but your possessions, you are the one, not your house, who is going to be empty inside.

Last modified on November 9th, 2016

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