Suppose for a moment that you were given an unexpected fifty thousand dollars and you are trying to decide between two options:
Initially you may think that the instant gratification of a new car would be best, and more so if your current vehicle needs to be replaced. You might also dismiss the idea of taking a vacation because even though a trip can be wonderful, it is time-limited, intangible, and quickly becomes “just” a memory. However, this line of thinking may not actually lead you towards a decision that increases your long-term happiness. If you truly want to make a decision that promotes a more sustained level of happiness, there is a strong argument in favor of the vacation. This is because experiences tend to have a greater impact on people’s happiness than material things, and a big part of that happiness lies in anticipating the experience you are going to have.
People spend nearly half of their time thinking about something other than what they are doing. This mind-wandering typically makes people unhappy and discontent. We spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around us, focusing more on things that occurred in the past, things that may happen in the future and things that might never happen at all. Harvard-trained psychologist Matthew Killingsworth and Professor of Psychology, Daniel Gilbert, collaborated on a 2010 Science paper wherein they stated that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind”. According to Killingsworth, happiness does not necessarily come when we buy something, but rather, when we are anticipating or looking forward to an experience in the future.
Experiential purchases, such as movies, trips, concerts, etc., tend to bring people more satisfaction than do material purchases. This is because the emotional impact of making a purchase actually begins before you purchase it. When one waits for an experience, more happiness and excitement is felt than when waiting for a material possession. Furthermore, when one waits for a material possession, it is more common to feel impatient rather than excited. For example, people tend to feel better when anticipating an upcoming vacation than they do when anticipating the delivery of something tangible, such as a new smartphone.
During the hectic holiday season when we are inundated with advertisements and holiday-gift buying guides designed to pressure us into buying material things, it is important to pause for a moment and reflect. Ask yourself how many experiences (weekend getaways, cooking classes, camping trip, etc.) you can recall with happy memories versus the number of happy memories you have received from those material items you have purchased (electronic devices, clothing, etc). It is helpful to keep in mind that spending money for an experience will provide you (and those on your gift-giving list) with longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on material things.
Without question, one of the most common things people do with their money is buy “stuff”. Numerous research studies have proven time and time again that “stuff” cannot make you as happy as experiences. We look forward to experiences more and we gain more satisfaction and happiness prior to, during and after the experience is over. While that brand new TV can make you happy temporarily, with time, you will become bored with it. With an experience, on the other hand, you have created a lifelong memory that you can fondly recall and share with others for years to come. This is why experiences are truly a source of long-term happiness. Spread the joy by giving the gift of experiences!
To learn more about the services I offer click here. My office is centrally located in Hermosa Beach, California and I provide therapy and counseling services for children, teens, adults and couples in Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, El Segundo, Torrance and all over the South Bay area. Please feel free to contact me!