We know that money can make us happier, but after our basic needs are met money does not make us much happier (according to some scientists). So, one of the big issues of our time remains: How to distribute money, which (for most of us) is a limited resource, in order to achieve maximum pleasure and greater happiness? Money or the lack thereof eventually teaches us to cherish experiences not things.
What most people are doing, when they're spending their money, is going after things which will remain with them longer, hoping that these things will make them feel happier for longer periods of time. Experiences (like going to a concert) last shorter, but is it true that long-lasting possessions can make us feel happier?
"Adaptation is the major enemy of happiness", per Dr. Gilovich (Professor of Psychology) who studies the correlation between happiness and money. "We buy stuff that should bring more happiness to our lives, and we manage to achieve this but only briefly. New possessions are exciting for us only in the beginning. We all get used to them", says Gilovich.
His advice is to invest in experiences not in belongings. Such experiences could be: going to exhibitions, participating in outdoor activities, learning new skills, or discovering new locations. According to a series of psychological tests, carried out by Dr. Gilovich and his team, positive experiences can make us happier in the long run. The researchers have found that money buys happiness but only to a certain extent. It's imperative we learn to cherish experiences not things.
Test subjects were asked to compare their level of happiness after buying a house or a new car to their level of satisfaction after spending money on a new experience. They were asked to use the same scale of one to ten in both cases. Initially the levels were equal, but after a while test subjects reported an increase of satisfaction with their new experiences and a decrease in happiness with having to maintain their new purchases. Offering further proof to cherish experiences not things.
The irony is that material possessions will always be available, therefore their presence is working against itself, because it helps us get more easily accustomed to them. In the same time, every new experience requires new levels of adaptation. Over time, the enthusiasm of acquisition fades and possessions become part of the new normal. "Have you ever felt bored and lonely at home? Well, it doesn't matter how expensive your home is", the researchers say. "While happiness derived from possessions decreases with time, new experiences become an integral part of our identity, which is constantly changing. This is exactly what makes change so valuable and significant".
Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than material goods. Everybody enjoys material benefits. We should not deny them. We may even think that part of our identities are connected with these things, but they are not. They remain separated from us. In contrast, experiences are really what becomes part of us. We are all a summary of our experiences.
Negative Experiences vs Material Assets
Even Negative Experiences Can Make You Happier Than Material Assets
Even negative experiences from the past can make us happier than material possessions in the present. Negative stories can be revalued, and they can bring us happiness and fulfillment. Something could have been stressful or frightening in the past, but it may become a funny story we're telling at parties in the present.
Another reason experiences make us happier than material assets is that, if shared, they connect us more with people than shared consumption. It is more possible to feel connected to someone with whom you have been robbed on vacation in Egypt than with someone with whom you've bought a new refrigerator. We consume experiences directly with others, and we consume material possessions mostly on our own. After our experiences are gone, they remain part of the stories we tell others.
We compare our experiences with those of other people in a less negative light than we compare our material possessions. It is easier to compare material goods (how big is your TV, how fast is your car) than experiences. And, since it is easier to make such comparisons, people do make them. We care if we were on vacation and other people stayed in a better hotel, but we couldn't envy their experience as much as we could envy their tangible assets. We care much more about their bigger house at home.
Memories Are Not Things
The expectation of a positive experience can provoke stronger emotions of happiness and fulfillment than tangible property. Consider, for example, a delicious meal in a nice restaurant tonight. How different is this from waiting for a new iPhone? It is obvious that people are happier in anticipation of experiences. We can see many videos on the internet about scandals in stores with large discounts and product launches. This happens very rarely in line for concert tickets. The mood there is much more positive.
It is wrong to believe that experiences happen only once, while things are constant and, therefore, they are more valuable. In fact, many of us develop tolerance for objects in everyday life. Shiny gadgets, clothing and jewelry simply merge with all other belongings. They grow old. Our memories grow old too, but they become more pleasant with time. Furthermore, material possessions are not interesting topics of conversation. Very few people want to listen about new laptops, new cars and new houses acquired by other people. Losing your passport abroad is a much more interesting story to tell.
The key to experiences is the ability of the human mind to imagine many different scenarios. Belongings lack this kind of mystery. When we buy something tangible, we usually know exactly what to expect from it. We focus on receiving the item, and then we move on as quickly as possible with our lives. It is not the same thing with experiences. Even bad experiences can have a positive side. They can become a good lesson to be taught, a wisdom to be shared, or an interesting story to be told. We are much more satisfied with what we do, than with what we have. So, experiences give us more of a sense of 'being' than buying stuff ever will.