WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2015 – Even in a shaky economy, you may discover that you have a little money to spare. Perhaps you have been working hard and your goal is to reward yourself a bit for your endeavors.
You may be wondering whether you should go on a shopping spree or invest the money in a new experience, such as a vacation, visit to a cultural attraction or even a concert or baseball game.
Interestingly, if you trust science to answer the question, you will discover that research indicates experiences, rather than material possessions, make most people happier.
Interaction With Others
One of the most striking differences between how people are affected by experiences versus material possessions involves relationships. Strengthening ties with friends and family does not occur merely by purchasing a new item, but very often occurs when you engage in a vacation, sport or other activity with your loved ones.
Another interesting part of the study brought out the fact that friends and family members are usually unimpressed hearing about new items you have acquired, but are typically very interested in hearing about a trip you took or an outing in which you participated.
More Happiness and Less Envy
Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich uncovered another interesting fact concerning possessions, experiences and envy: People are less self-conscious when they compare experiences than material possessions. For example, you may feel somewhat envious if you visit a friend who has better furniture and appliances than if he or she got to visit more attractions and landmarks when on vacation.
Gilovich went on to say that municipalities with more walking paths, hiking trails, parks and picnic areas tend to have happier populations. Perhaps this is because things that have a tendency to make you envious are not an issue when you are participating in outdoor activities to which all people have equal access.
Rewards That Last
San Francisco State University psychology professor Ryan Howell presented findings from a study that show some of the reasons people are happier when they seek new experiences instead of possessions.
According to the study, the reason for this is largely due to the rapid pace at which the initial thrill of acquiring a new item fades. In contrast, positive experiences provide happiness for many future years through powerful memories, which rarely fade completely.
Even though most individuals are pleased with new purchases, the majority of those involved in the study clearly showed more satisfaction with new, enjoyable experiences than any new object, even a high-end item such as a car.
Therefore, if you are considering a new, costly toy versus a Taiwan tour or vacation in Europe, give some thought to choosing the trip as opposed to a mink coat or expensive home theater system.
Another reason that learning a new skill, visiting a museum or traveling to a new place is more rewarding than material things is that new experiences are rarely boring. However, when you buy a new item, you are thrilled for a little while, but then eventually adapt to the new possession.
The fact that what you purchased is constantly present eventually works against it, at which point you become bored with what once gave you a thrill. On the other hand, new experiences by their very nature are not subject to this adaptation, making them more enjoyable.
The Joy of Anticipation
If you are going to attend a concert or ballgame or take a trip to a different part of the world, it necessarily involves anticipation. Many times, looking forward to something can be just as fun as the event itself, and this is something that is not always the case when buying things. Shopping trips are not typically planned far in advance, and therefore the anticipation, if any, does not last very long.
However, vacations and similar activities are generally organized well ahead of time. For example, if you are planning a Vietnam tour or trip to Spain, you may get tremendous enjoyment out of simply looking at Internet pictures of your chosen destination or viewing your hotel suite in advance.
Imagining all the possibilities when planning an event also adds to the fulfillment it offers. Even if it is simply a concert or a ballgame, you can enjoy the preceding weeks wondering whether you will get an autograph from your favorite performer or the team you are rooting for will enjoy a big win.
One thing you will not be is bored, as the moment one experience ends, you can begin looking forward to the next.
Unlike items that sit around your house and with which you eventually become bored and regret spending money on, you will never regret positive experiences.
The next time you are considering buying a new sports car with insurance, the latest iPhone, or a new wardrobe, consider learning a new skill, visiting an art exhibit or taking a dream vacation.