Buy an Experience Not Things

Make Yourself Happy – Buy an Experience!

It’s a scientific fact – experiences bring you more happiness than possessions! This has been shown in several scientific studies from major universities. Here’s the low down on why that should be:

Buying Things doesn't really make you happy

It’s perfectly normal to think that buying something that we can keep will result in happiness. After all, a Flight of the Gibbon experience will only last a day and that hand-woven rug should last a lifetime. It’s obvious that the rug is going to bring us more happiness isn’t it? A lifetime of value versus a day?

Unfortunately, it’s that obvious choice that leads to many of us choosing to invest in possessions over experiences. Yet, when you look at psychological research, our assumptions about what will make us happy turn out to be flawed.

There is no doubt that when we buy something that we want – it makes us happy. However, it only makes us happy for a very short period of time. If you’ve ever heard the line “familiarity breeds contempt” it could have been written for those of us who buy material possessions.

You see, human beings are adaptable creatures. We tend to react positively towards something new in our environment but very quickly that excitement fades - then the “new thing” becomes an “old thing”. That rug, we bought, gives us a couple of hours of talking points when we get home. Then it becomes forgotten and we stand on it every day and barely give it a second thought.

It’s not that the rug has become less lovely. It’s that we have become accustomed to it so we do what our brains always do – we accept it as part of our environment and forget about it. Those years of happiness that we told ourselves we would get from that rug? They don’t exist. In fact, even when it comes to the biggest purchases of our lives – homes and cars, we quickly find the excitement we feel from ownership fading. Things just aren’t a recipe for being happy.

What Makes Experiences Different?

Why should experiences be any different? It turns out that it’s the brevity of an experience which makes us happy. For example, if you take our zipline tour of the jungle in Thailand – it’s not an instant event, the whole program takes several hours. You get to talk to our guides. You share the experience with friends or the folks you meet on the tour. You learn something about the plants and animals. You experience the thrill of gliding through the jungle canopy. Then, almost imperceptibly quickly – it’s over.

You see, one-off experiences tend to stick in our minds. We remember the places, the people, the fun, etc. vividly. We tend to recall those experiences for years to come. Each time we do, that happiness that we felt during the experience – is recalled and makes us happy again.

In their book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending – the Harvard Business School Professor Michael Norton and his co-author Elizabeth Dunn, encourage people to spend money on experiences instead of things because they can demonstrate that it leads to a happier life. You can find Michael Norton demonstrating this idea on YouTube here.

Value vs. Happiness

If you’re still thinking ‘I understand that but I think the material possession represents greater value – after all, I get to keep that possession forever’. You might want to read the research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

In that study, researchers spoke to their volunteers about the decision making process between buying an experience and buying a thing. Before the purchase, most volunteers were agreed that they knew that the experience would make them happier but they were convinced that the thing would bring better value. They saw buying a possession as a more rewarding option because of its longevity.

However, immediately after buying the thing – most volunteers changed their minds. They said that they now realized that not only was an experience more likely to lead to happiness but that in their opinion – the experience would be better value too.

What About Bad Experiences?

What happens if you undertake an experience, rather than buying a thing, and then that experience turns out to be not so much fun? Surely, that will lead to unhappiness?

Strangely, research conducted by Dr. Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University says differently. His research showed that while an experience may not have been so positive while we undertake it – once we have completed the experience and start talking about it with friends, family, etc. We tend to reassess the experience and are very likely to begin deriving happiness from it.

Whereas if we buy something physical and we’re not happy with it – we’re not likely to change our minds no matter how much we discuss it later.

Experiences are Incomparable

It’s worth noting that the research suggests that one of the reasons, it’s hard to stay happy with things, is that it’s very easy to compare them with our friends and neighbors. You may be ecstatic to get your brand new iPhone 7 but when your neighbor rocks up sporting an iPhone 8 – the happiness wears off.

We are naturally inclined to try and keep up with the Joneses. When it comes to possessions this is pretty challenging: the market changes, technology progresses, etc. and we know when our possessions are inferior to the possession of people around us - what once gave us pleasure can quickly become a source of embarrassment.

Experiences, on the other hand, are unique. No two zipline tours are the same. The people on them are different. The weather changes. The things we see in the jungle change daily, after all we can’t expect nature to perform on demand can we? And so on…

If your neighbor goes scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, or climbs a local mountain – it doesn’t diminish your experience of those things. Sure, you’ll find things in common but both of you will have something truly personal to add that isn’t shared.

Experiences are Social

Experiences are normally social in nature but they become more so as we relate them to others. It’s hard to stop talking about the perfect party or a day spent in the rainforest in Thailand. Whereas it’s much harder to get others to be excited by our new phone or new TV. There’s something anti-social about possessions because they are, by and large, ours and not communal property.

In Summary

There’s nothing wrong with buying things. We all need things in our lives at some point. However, if we want to be happy – we should focus our attention on buying experiences. Not only do they make us happier as we experience them; they drive long-term happiness too.

So what are you waiting for? Book your Flight of the Gibbon experience today. It’s a sure-fire way to feel happier and you can help support the wildlife and ecology of Thailand too. And while, it’s a subject for another blog, when we do something to help – we also feel happier.

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