Why Experiences Make You Happier Than Possessions?

We live in society that is obsessed with consumption. There is no advertisement on TV, radio or Internet that doesn’t promise us that by buying a specific product we will satisfy a certain need. Companies and corporations persuade us every day that by purchasing their products we purchase a specific life style, status in society, feeling… in one word HAPPINESS. The problem with this is that the purchase of a new model of iPhone, car, laptop or chocolate will satisfy us momentarily, but it will not last. Joy that is found in buying a new item rarely last longer than a few weeks. Researchers have a name for this temporary fulfillment- a retail therapy.

On the other side, studies have shown that by buying an experiences we will bring much more contentment in our lives. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor from Cornell University, conducted a 20-year old study and came to conclusion that the things we buy provide us happiness that fades quickly. That is the paradox of possession, we assume that happiness will last as long as the new item itself. But it wont and here are the reasons why, according to Gilovich:

  1. We get used to new possessions– New things that are exciting to us, quickly become a norm. We quickly get used of them.
  2. We keep raising the bar– Possession of new things lead us to new expectations. As soon as we get used with a new item, we start looking for an even better one.
  3. The Joneses are always lurking nearby– There is always someone with a better car, furniture or jacket than ours. We tend to compare our material assets with those of others. And as soon as we start with comparing, the thrill is gone.

The message is loud and clear: experiences will make people much more happier than material purchases. In the paper “To do or to have? That is the question,” published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich write about three causes for this:

  1. Experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation– because they are associated with more deeper, personal meanings. Van Boven gives us an example : “If you go on a hiking trip, and the weather is terrible, you might not view it as a pleasurable experience in the here and now. Instead, you may view it as a challenge, and over time remember the positive aspects of the experience more than the negative aspects. With material things you can’t do this, because they are what they are.”
  2. Experiences are more central to one’s identity– your life is literally the sum of your experiences. Accumulating rich experiences you will have a richer life.
  3. Experiences have greater social value– they are more pleasurable to talk about and they more effectively foster successful social relationships, which are closely associated with happiness.

This is one of many researches that state the well known- happiness can’t be bought. You should wisely consider on what will you spend your hard earned money.  Just think do you need a new model of a phone, when your not so old one is working perfectly and fulfills its purpose. You can spend that money on a language course, that will be more beneficial for you. Or you can save money for a long desired trip to Paris. All material goods have an experience date printed on it’s declaration, but memories that you get last a life time. This doesn’t mean that you should live like ascetics. As in every sphere of our lives it is important to find the balance that will make us happy.


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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology- To Do or to Have? That Is the Question

Sciencedaily.com- Experiences Make People Happier Than Material Goods, Says University Of Colorado

Enterpreneur.com- You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things

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