One of the most basic forces that drives us as humans is the pursuit of happiness. But what is happiness? What makes us happy? Are we on the right track? Is it having money? Children? A partner in life?
All of these things make a person happy. And here’s a boost from science to clear the air – experiences make us truly happy, not things.
We live in a developed world, which means, we live in a consumerist society.
If you thought that buying a new house or a new car is the key to being happy, think again. Professor Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University claims that money does make us happy, but there is a catch and it’s in the way we spend our money.
“One of the most striking results to emerge from the literature on happiness and well-being is the remarkable human capacity for habituation. Terrible things happen to people, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of one’s arms or legs, or a precipitous fall in economic standing, and yet, as devastating as these traumas are initially, people tend to find ways to rise above them and go on to live happy, fulfilling lives,” write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar.
“But when it comes to positive events, that same capacity for adaption can be a formidable enemy. People are thrilled when they get a raise, buy a new car, or get their first article published in The New Yorker, Outside Magazine, or Psychological Science. But often the thrill quickly fades.
The raise gets absorbed into the budget, the car loses that new-car smell and feel, and soon a thirst develops for getting more articles published.”
He was focused on studying how people spend their money, what people spend their money on and how these purchases affect people and ultimately found that even though physical objects last longer, as opposed to experiences, a concert, or a ten-day vacation, for example, it’s the experiences that make us much happier.
“People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession,” explains Gilovich.
“They think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they’ll be left with little compared to owning an item. But in reality, we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession.”
To further support his claim, professor Gilovich states that experiences last for a lifetime, we remember them and retell them, and by retelling them, we are reliving them. Also, experiences are usually shared with loved ones, close friends and so on. Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption.
“To be sure, the material goods we buy are sometimes shared with others (we invite friends over to watch the Oscars on our new television and take our friends out for a spin in our new BMW), but not consistently so (people often watch television by themselves and commute alone),” it says in the study.
“Beyond their more inherently social nature, experiences connect us to others in several ways. Imagine that you just bought an experience—you went to the Azores, dined at le Cirque, or saw Flight of the Conchords in concert.
If you learned that someone else had the same experience, would you feel closer to that person? Now imagine that you just bought a material possession—a Stickley couch, a 46-inch Sony TV, or a North Face parka. If you learned that someone else had made the same purchase, would you feel closer to that person?”
“The answer is almost certainly yes to both questions because almost anything we share with another person tends to bring us closer together (lovers being a very notable and potentially explosive exception).”
What can we learn from this? It’s pretty simple, really. Instead of buying the latest gadget on the market, go see a movie with a friend, take your family to a park, pick up a new hobby with your wife.
Go on vacation, go to paintball, a wine tasting… the options are endless. We need to free ourselves from the constraints of this consumerist world.
Making and spending money will always make us happy. We will never stop spending money as long as money exists; it’s how we spend our money that counts.