4 Ways That Experiences Make Us Happier Than Things

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Science tells us that it’s easier to be happy when you invest in experiences and not materialism. Why? Read on.


We live in a world filled with industries who only make money if they convince you to buy what they’re selling. As a result, the prevailing message is “Sure, you’re happy — but you’d be much happier with this 60” television in your home!”

But would you be happier?

Science says no.

Here are 6 reasons why sharing experiences will make you happier than buying things will.

1. You love it for a month then a better version comes out.

I call this iPhoneblues Syndrome. As an iPhone owner, this “but it’s a month old” fatigue has happened to me each time I’ve gotten one, even if I buy it in the first month — rumors about the “next” model come out and suddenly I’m wondering how I’ll ever be happy without THOSE cool bells and whistles. I may continue liking my phone, but deep down inside, the glee is gone when those first rumors emerge. This is strange, because I’m not a gadget person, I don’t care about “new toys,” but even I fall victim to this feeling — and that’s by industrial design.

But even less-than-perfect trips and other experiences leave me with something to remember. Maybe I didn’t do _________ on my roadtrip to California, but I slept in a lighthouse, and I found a beached whale at Pebble Beach, and I remember what that fresh-picked hot-from-the-sun peach tasted like at a roadside fruit stand in the middle of nowhere. That’s what experience is all about. It’s yours. No one else’s. You can’t “buy” that.

2. It loses value the moment you buy it.

From books to furniture to cars, everything you buy pretty much loses 30% or more the minute you buy it. It’s used now, man. That’s how it goes.

Experiences, though, you can’t sell them, default on them, or break it. Whether it’s a night that goes sideways fast but leaves you with a lifetime of memories, or even just a day shared by a seaside with a tasty picnic, it’s something that stays with you. It becomes part of who you are. Can you really say that about the new car or watch you just bought?

3. “Giving up on the Joneses” will make you happier.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” has become part of our vernacular — it’s the quest to match our neighbors and peers when it comes to what we own. Cornell professor Dr. Gilovich has spent over 20 years studying the effects of money and experiences on our happiness, and he told FastCo.,

“The tendency of keeping up with the Joneses tends to be more pronounced for material goods than for experiential purchases. It certainly bothers us if we’re on a vacation and see people staying in a better hotel or flying first class. But it doesn’t produce as much envy as when we’re outgunned on material goods.”

When you stop worrying about what others own and focus instead on whether what you own is meeting your needs, it does surprising things for your ability to be happier with what you have versus always wanting something new.

4. Even bad experiences “improve” when we can share them.

Dr. Gilovich even found in one study that people who had a bad experience, but could later speak about it and share it with others, found that their happiness factor increased from having that misadventure.

One time I wrote a car off in an accident and just happened to do so in front of a television news crew who caught the whole thing on tape. Really. “Story at 6!” And 11. More than two decades later, I still remember all the times I got to make a whole room laugh with that story. I barely even remember the car now, but I sure remember all the laughs and teasing and memories we made as a result of that.

This summer, go for experiences and not things

If you’re looking to spend money this summer, why not invest in experiences? Whether you get a few friends together to build that shed you’ve dreamed of for years, or you arrange an outdoor movie in your yard, or you talk some friends into finally skydiving together — there are a million ways you can fill your summer with experiences that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, instead of buying something that’ll lost its value (and coolness) within your first few weeks of splurging.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.