I was recently wondering: Do experiences cause happiness more than money for most people? The answer: Apparently they do! While I was researching it, I found a good article on the topic, on the Fast Company’s Co.Exist website. In it Jay Cassano interviewed Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University. Gilovich has made it his job to study possible connections between happiness and money, and his findings are interesting.
For the past twenty-odd years, Gilovich has conducted research and surveys to discover what makes people happy, both in the short- and long-term. He published a paper on it with Amit Kumar in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. They concluded that experiences far outweigh material possessions when it comes to giving us a genuine, long-lasting inner smile.
Here are four key points I found interesting:
We adapt pretty quickly to new things we buy—and once we do, the happiness we felt when we first got them starts to fade (or even vanish)
Translation: Sure, go ahead and get the coolest new gadget or the car you really want, but know that it’s not going to make you stop feeling empty or sad.
Rather, if you want to increase your happiness, go do something
Gilovich and others have also found that people’s satisfaction from spending money on experiences increases over time; the satisfaction from spending money on stuff goes down. Plus, once you have an experience it becomes part of who you are. No matter how much you love that new sofa or outfit, it never will.
The best experiences are the ones you share—even if they’re negative
Gilovich discovered in one study that just talking about a bad experience made people feel more positive about it. (I can hear the therapists of the world clapping!) Part of the reason is because during the storytelling you can add humor or see how you benefited from it in terms of your character development. Plus, by telling someone about your experienc,e you’re connecting with them.
Even better: If you have an experience with someone else, you can remember (and tell about) it together.
Experiences don’t tend to generate competitiveness and envy
When was the last time you sat around thinking with envy, “Why does my neighbor get to go to kayaking on Sunday and I can’t?” Chances are you haven’t. But, you may have sat around wishing you could buy a Maserati just like his.
The bottom line: By getting your mind off of your own stuff and onto new experiences, you’ll tend to put yourself down less.