Millennials value experiences over ‘stuff’ and are increasingly spending time and money on them: from concerts and social events to athletic pursuits, to cultural experiences and events of all kinds. Psychological research, as condensed in Happy Money, has determined that experiential spending has a high return on happiness per dollar spent.
There are several reasons for this. Whereas the emotional rush of material purchases fades, memories of experiences last much longer. One study defined leisure spending to include trips, movies, concerts, dining out, sporting events, gym memberships and even dog walking. The study found that people who spend more money on leisure reported significantly greater satisfaction with their lives. In addition to getting people off the couch, buying experiences brings us together with other people and connects us with shared memories. Material purchases, such as homes, automobiles and flat-screen TVs, turned out to have zero bearing on their life satisfaction.
Experiential spending is more than just trips but all the experiences that we fill our lives with. The experiences that are most impactful on happiness are ones that:
- bring you together with other people, fostering a sense of social connection
- make for memorable stories that you’ll enjoy retelling for years to come
- are tightly linked to your sense of who you are or want to be
- provide a unique opportunity, eluding easy comparison with other available options
Social experiences can take on many forms and staying attuned to what brings you happiness is paramount. Extroverted people may prefer going out dancing, to shows and sporting events, while introverts may prefer dinners, playing video games, and cycling classes. More memorable experiences can include concerts and holiday trips. The authors point out that these experiences do not have to be positive to make good stories – such as eating blowfish or hiking at the crack of dawn. Social media, on the other hand, has actually been linked to increased social comparison and decreased life satisfaction.
We tend to relate our sense of self much closer to experiences. In an experiment, participants were asked to identify four material and four experiential purchases they had made and then to indicate how closely linked each of those purchases was to their sense of self. This self-reflection exercise can be easily carried to periodically center you back to where you want to be.
The value of experiences, such as vacations, extends happiness in several ways. We look forward to trips and that anticipation brightens our days. During the experience – as mentioned earlier – we build social relationships and form new memories. Moreover, an escape from life reboots our habituation to the every day.Trying something new is exciting, but soon we are ready to return to what we know and trust. It is no wonder that vacations reduce stress and increase greater professional success. Experiences produce happiness that start with anticipation and continue to produce lasting dividends.
A simple shift of focus can reframe a purchase to an experience and vice versa. A book can be a book or a cherished memory, while a vacation can sometimes feel more like a chore. You are much more likely to be satisfied with when treating objects as experiences rather than just as stuff. Stuff will come and go, but your experiences will make you who you are. Marie Kondo advises that when buying, organizing, and removing things from our lives we weigh the joy they give us and thank them for the joy they have added before parting with them. As we acknowledge our gratitude for the positive experience that object brought us, we can be more mindful as we consider buying new objects.
Next time you reach for your wallet to buy something, consider how it will add to your life.
What do you think?