We all spend a good part of our time working hard and get a nice paycheck for the effort we put in. Spending that amount of money on things which make us happy in our constant pursuit of happiness becomes our focus. But is happiness the same to all people?
We find happiness in different things. Some people are happy buying new and expensive tech gadgets, while others searching for valuable and unforgettable experiences.
What type of a happy person are you? Unable to decide, yet? Well, science has the answer for you. It’s the real-life experiences, not things, that make us truly happy, and here is why.
Experiences give bigger and more lasting satisfaction
Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, states that experiences last longer than material things. When we buy something, we can easily get used to it and stop giving it any special value or attention. Also, the reality is that we can easily come to terms with the fact that we didn’t buy our favorite piece of clothing or gadget, but we will certainly regret not experiencing something we now wish we did, such as going with friends to a concert or going on holiday.
People habituate less to experiences
When we are faced with difficult and sad situations in our lives, we always try to adapt to and find ways to overcome them. As for the positive things, “that same capacity for adaption can be a formidable enemy”, notes Gilovich. For instance, “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.” So, although it may look that our satisfaction with material things will last for as long as we keep them, it’s not true. When we buy certain material things our happiness tends to decrease over the course of time because we get used to them. On the contrary, real-life experiences continue to live in our memory, and we enjoy reminding ourselves of them.
Experiences connect us to other people
There are two ways in which experiences connect us to others.
1. We all live in groups and share things and experiences with the people surrounding us. Although we love sharing material things, research shows that it’s the sharing of experiences that bring us closer to other people. Gilovich explains that if you imagined a situation in which you “just bought an experience, you went to the Azores, dined at Le Cirque, or saw Flight of the Conchords in concert.” Then imagine that you “just bought a material possession—a Stickley couch, a 46-inch Sony TV, or a North Face parka”. Then, if you found out that other people had the same experiences and things as you did, who would you feel closer to? It’s shown that we feel a lot closer to people who share and reflect on the same experiences as we do.
2. Experiences promote social connection as they prompt more conversation and telling stories. Gilovich, in one of his studies, shows that people tend to talk more about their experiences than about their material purchases. This talking contributes more to their enjoyment of the experience purchases than it does to that of the material purchases. Additionally, the study has shown that more people will opt for a less desirable experience rather than a greater one that they can’t talk about, which is contrary to the case of material things.
Our experiences make our identity
Yeah, material things can be important to us, but they certainly aren’t the focus of our lives. The things we buy don’t make who we really are. On the other hand, the thought of our own experiences reflects more who we are. Gilovich explains this by saying: “Sharing something more central to the self is certain to produce a greater feeling of kinship and connection than sharing something more peripheral.”
Comparisons of experiences are less important
It’s not a big secret that we all tend to compare our possessions to those of other people. Yet, when it comes to experiences, the things that other people have done matter less. In one study by Gilovich, it’s been shown that comparing ours with other people’s possessions reduce our enjoyment of them, which isn’t the case when comparing experiences. Interestingly enough, people are less affected by potentially invidious comparisons of experiences than by those of possessions. For example, if you’ve just had a great holiday in some place, and you find out that somebody else has gone there but spent less money, how much troubled would you be by this? Of course, not much. You had your own genuine experience and unforgettable moments which you wouldn’t exchange for those of someone else.
Anticipation is important
The anticipation of experiences brings more pleasure and joy than the anticipation of material things. You can get excited at the very beginning of your plans and wait hoping to see them through. Even if they don’t turn out to be the way you liked them, you can still take a positive lesson out of it and enrich your personal experiences.