The People Pro® Blog

Buy Experiences, Not Things. They last longer.

By Barbara Bartlein, RN, MSW

What brings more happiness; a new flat-screen TV or that trip you have always been dreaming about?  No question, the TV is more immediate and you can use it every day.  The vacation is in the future and when it is over, all you have are photos and memories.  But new research demonstrates that it is experiences that stay with us, not things.

"One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation," Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, told Fast Company. "We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed, but only for a while.  New things are exciting to use at first, but then we adapt to them." 

Gilovich has been studying the relationship between money and happiness for more than 20 years and has found that spending money on experiences--travel, outdoor activities, concerts, classes, etc., bring us more joy than buying material things.  In one of his studies he asked people to report their happiness with a major material or experiential purchase.  Initially, people ranked both purchases about the same.  But over time their happiness with material objects decreased while their satisfaction with experiences increased.

Gilovich believes that one reason for this diminishing satisfaction with material goods is that our experiences are a bigger part of our identity than our possessions.  Our experiences make up who we are and how we interact with the world.  Even negative experiences, ie, vacation disasters, can become positive over time.  They become time honored stories that are shared with family and friends.

Most importantly, experiences usually are shared with other people. We feel connected, a part of a group.  Whether it is a group of people going down the Colorado River or backpacking through Europe, there is a shared connection.  Interestingly, spending money on experiences also seems to make people more generous and more likely to participate in social activities.  Time to book my next trip.

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