The question on whether to spend your money on experiences or things is a longstanding one, and one of many issues on which people fundamentally disagree. But research that came out this year from Thomas Gilovich at Cornell suggests that the question actually has a solution. Gilovich is a psychologist who studies happiness—an underrepresented but fascinating field in psychology. Gilovich asserts that experiential purchases are more long-lasting and make us happier overall than hoarding things at home. But why is that?
Experiences give you talking points.
Experiences give us common ground and stories to share. People aren't likely to swap stories about their Ninja Blender (unless you're on some kind of online Ninja Blender forum), but if you've both been coral reef diving, now you've got something to talk about. People love to talk about themselves and love to share. Nothing brings out that desire like knowing someone else understands you. Shared experiences are powerful things.
Your experiences become part of you.
People do tend to view objects as part of their persona. People who drive cars with bumper stickers—regardless of how sweet or innocuous those bumper stickers are—drive more aggressively because they view their car as an extension of themselves. Still, regardless of how attached we grow, or how fond our memories may be with an object, our belongings aren't us. Our memories are a different story. The experiences we have become part of us, molding our thoughts and changing who we are in small, subtle ways. Those things ultimately become more important to us than the things we own.
We adapt to the things around us.
Having an 8K TV sounds like a really cool idea. And it is a really cool idea—until you get used to it. One of humanity's greatest strengths—and one of its weaknesses—is that we acclimate to our surroundings very well. It's allowed us to survive unspeakable hardship, but it can also blind us to how good we have it. The things that are part of our everyday life tend to blend into the background instead of being actively appreciated on a day-by-day basis. Memories, on the other hand, continue to make us happy. Even bad experiences can lead to happy memories if we feel like we learned from them or if they become a funny story. You can't say the same for bad products.
It's more fun to look forward to experiences.
Gilovich's research suggests that experiences make us happier than things even before we take part in those experiences. His team compares waiting for a good meal or a vacation to waiting for a package to arrive from Amazon or for a new iPhone to come out. Waiting for items is a different kind of anticipation, one that their research suggests isn't as pleasant.
This is too much science. What's the point?
Go, travel! Travel broadens your horizons and your mind. It exposes you to more cultures, places, and walks of life than you never thought possible. It makes your world bigger. It increases the size of the world that you live in and the kinds of things you think are possible. And, on top of everything else, it makes you happy.