Do experiences make people happier than material possessions?
It’s the first sentence on the research report prepared by Leaf Van Boven, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University. And according to the outcome of their research, they’ve found out that experiences beat material possessions by far. How and why? Here’s the explanation.
Let’s say you have bought your dream house or the car that you’ve always wanted to buy. You are happiest as you can be. But over time, that happiness goes down. And that happens every time. You’d think that the new house would make you super happy. And of course, it does, but not as much as you think it would, because it sticks around. It’s the same house day in day out, and you get used to it. The deterioration starts the moment you get through the door of the house to settle in, or you start using the car for the first time.
What about anything you pay money that’s not a thing, but something you experience?
Like going on a vacation in a tropical island, or visiting a famous museum that you always wanted to see. Even something short like going out to eat, or enjoying a tasty dessert.
Those are experiences, and they will not be with you longer than a few days or hours. You won’t have time to adapt to them. Dan Gilbert, Harvard University, says, “A new car sticks around to disappoint you. But a trip to Europe is over. It evaporates. It has the good sense to go away and leave you with nothing but your wonderful memory.”
But why would you want to invest in a vacation? You could upgrade your car instead. A car stays and will be useful to you in the future. It’s a point where your mind gives you the wrong feedback. You get more happiness than you expect out of experiences.
The fact that the vacation is only a week-long, or you can’t be in a room looking at this masterpiece of art for very long means that you don’t have time to get used to it. Same thing with a concert, or a delicious glass of wine. You would want it to keep going. But if it did, that wouldn’t be as good. You would get tired of it.
Live and let go, it’ll come back to you like a boomerang
Think about the next big purchase you’re going to make, either a thing or an experience that you plan to have. How would the anticipation of this purchase make you feel? Would you feel happier and more excited? Amit Kumar, University of Texas and his team’s research results show that if you look at the excitement levels, they’re higher for an experience than material. Furthermore, the pleasantness people feel is almost two and a half times more about going on a ski trip or their favourite band’s concert than it is about planning to buy a new pair of shoes or a nice Canada goose jacket.
What you experience creates a good memory. Every time you talk about it, you remember it, you re-live the happiness it made you feel. But you can talk about your beautiful new car only so long, not forever. Besides, soon enough, the car won’t be brand new anymore.
People prioritize things they want to buy rather than the experiences they want to live. And don’t get it wrong, all of these things give them quite a big happiness. But they think that material buys are much better than experiences. And that’s just not the case.
If you don’t believe me, or the research results that I’ve mentioned, think about your last big purchase and your latest beautiful experience. Which one do you remember more fondly?