Our generation seems to have cultivated a strong taste for material goods. We’re stuck in a “money buys happiness” mindset, particularly having grown up in a very fast-paced, ever-advancing, technology-trumped society. Developments have become so second nature to us that perhaps it’s this very adaptation to technology that fuels our apparent need for more.
While it can be fine and dandy (technology has certainly made many things faster and more convenient), there’s something to be said about the simplicity that all this “stuff” just can’t provide. But for some reason, despite having evidence that things consistently let us down, we still think that they’ll provide extreme happiness and allow amiable recollections of instant gratification to dictate our every purchase. You would think we’d have learned by now, but we’ve still got a way to go.
It’s not that we shouldn’t buy ourselves nice things—we can and occasionally should. But we should accept each thing for what it is and nothing more; a new pair of trendy shoes will look cool on our feet while protecting them from the ground. That’s it. A new pair of high-tech headphones will let us listen to music with less background noise. That’s it. We frequently put too much faith in material goods—we expect them to be elixirs of life/love/joy and are then surprised when they don’t sustain our existence/find us a soul mate/provide everlasting happiness. This causes us to start the cycle again as we try to satisfy such desires with more things.
Something about tangible possessions seems to comfort us college students, and as a large target audience, who can really blame us? The latest gadgets and gizmos follow us wherever we go, and we try to acquire them like there’s no tomorrow. There’s one type of purchase, however, that isn’t advertised nearly as much, one that’s even more valuable and will make us far happier: life experience. So next time you consider getting a new iPhone or that “must have” bracelet adorning everyone’s wrists, consider these reasons why buying experiences is better than buying things:
WE ADAPT TO THEM LESS QUICKLY
Stuff is great, but we get used to it too fast. Experiences, on the other hand, stay with us. While our new car with its delicious new car smell is only delicious for a few weeks before turning into nothing but a big piece of metal that gets us from here to there, the memory of going to Six Flags with our closest friends will be with us for years, providing happiness much more long-term. We don’t get used to or bored with experiences because they’re unpredictable and become a part of us rather than a part of our garage.
WE ANTICIPATE AND REMEMBER THEM MORE
Stuff can be fun for a bit, but the hype is quickly lost. With experiences, however, the excitement is always there, not only while it’s happening, but before and after, as well. According to Drs. Thomas Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven (professors of psychology at Cornell University and University of Colorado Boulder, respectively) because we usually buy experiences that we identify with, that allow us to grow in some way, we often “mentally revisit” them more than things; we find pleasure simply in thinking about them. When it comes to material goods, we usually find pleasure only when using them.
THEY’RE DIFFERENT EVERY TIME
Stuff stays the same. The pair of sunglasses you bought a month ago will look identical and act identically today as it did then—it doesn’t spice things up, doesn’t add anything new to the mix. But having a weekly coffee date with a friend or taking a road trip with a group is sure to be more spontaneous and novel than a product that doesn’t change. Though you may have a somewhat preconceived idea of what will happen, you can’t truly know what to expect.
WE CAN SHARE THEM
I think we can all agree that we’re often better off with people than by ourselves (not to say that alone time is never appreciated); according to Dr. Daniel Gilbert (professor of psychology at Harvard University), because we’re so naturally social, our happiness tends to increase almost any time we act in a way that improves our connections with others. What’s great about experiences is that we can share them with people, something that plain old things don’t give us the opportunity to do. Spending money on living life with good company is one of the best purchases you can make.
So before getting a new thing, ask yourself if it’s really worth buying. Try saving up for something that could make you significantly happier! Who knows? The experience may actually end up being priceless.
Image courtesy of Celina Timmerman