I used to think that spending money on vacations, going out to dinner, seeing a movie or a play was a waste of money. After all you had nothing tangible to show for your hard earned bucks. Recent scientific studies show that you get more bang for your buck from experiences than things, as far as lasting happiness goes.
The study was conducted by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. Study subjects were asked to answer questions about a recent purchase made within the last three months. The reason behind the purchase was to make them happier.
What Howell found was that the people who spent money on an experience were happier, both at the time of the purchase and afterward, than those who purchases things. My own experience backs this up. There are some interesting reasons why.
First there is the principle of hedonic adaptation. It’s a fancy term for ‘we become used to things”. So “my new car” becomes “my car”. The new shoes end up stacked with the rest of your shoes. The new couch loses it’s newness. And as with the luster of newness, the happiness fades over time.
The second reason is that experiences are usually shared. You usually enjoy a good meal with a friend or family. Even if you travel alone, you meet people along the way.
Experiences provide a hat-trick of happiness. We get happiness from anticipating the event, during the experience and memories from the experience.
Sharing stories about experiences create less comparison and envy and promote more relatedness. If I don’t own a sports car, I can’t relate to you or I might be envious of you. But we can all share about the best meal we ever ate. And since experiences are harder to place a value on, there is less of a competitive nature to them.
I think sometimes people confuse the thing with the experience. You give credit to the shoes for making you happy when it was the experience. – shopping with a friend – that is the real source of the happiness.
An exception is if the purchase provides an opportunity for more or greater experiences. Purchasing a mountain bike so you can go trail riding or a wok so you can cook stir-fry for your family are examples. Earlier this year, my guy bought a new motorcycle and we’ve already taken several great trips that have produced incredible memories. But it is the experiences that bring me the lasting joy not the bike itself.
So if you’ve got an extra $50 bucks in you wallet and you want to be happier, consider going out to dinner with a friend rather than buying a new sweater.