By Experience Oz

10 reasons why experiences are better than things

If you're looking to "maximise your happiness" in life with your money, science says: it's better to do things, than to have things. We take a look at 10 reasons why here

We live in a society traditionally obsessed with materialism, yet numerous recent independent studies have shown that it's the things we do, not the things we have, that make us the happiest.

From in-depth psychological research, to public surveys, to the trend of millennials using ever-greater percentages of their disposable income on experiences, results have shown that more and more people are ditching that pursuit of the latest model phone to instead strap on some scuba diving gear, book a cheap airfare, or simply head to a concert with friends.

Participants in two studies said life experiences made them happier than material purchases, and in a national survey, 67% of American respondents voted that their experiential purchases made them happier than physical objects (Gilovich, 2003).

The myth of "money doesn't buy happiness" may have long faded, however increasingly it's the matter of what we do with that money once we've satisfied all our basic needs that's falling more heavily under scrutiny. Most of us can't afford everything we desire; thus maximising the cost-to-happiness ratio wherever possible is important - and experiences provide one of the best returns, for a variety of reasons.

10. Happiness with "things" fades quickly

When we purchase a material item such as a new phone, new model car, or new TV, research shows that our appreciation for them tends to fall off very quickly; there's an initial "high" associated with physical goods that soon tails off.

This is due to the psychological reaction of being constantly exposed to something creating a "desensitising" effect that means - no matter how valuable that shiny new Mercedes - it soon becomes just another part of our daily routine.

In contrast, it's the brevity of experiences - the fact that they are temporary - that makes them more special. The fact that many times they're intended to be "once-off" experiences (we tend to not travel to the same destination twice, for example) means that their faults do not last long enough to become as obvious.

A flash of lightning isn't any less beautiful because it only lasts for a moment.

9. Experiences create conversation and storytelling

Let's face it: it's hard to begin a conversation with someone by bringing up your brand-new speed boat without coming across as some combination of bragging or boring. This is because we can relate to other people - both familiar and new - far better through experiences than material objects.

Recounting past adventures can lead to further follow up conversations, or be a great ice-breaker when socialising with someone new.

Bring up the brand of your handbag and you're likely to elicit hidden eye-rolls, yet let someone know about your last holiday destination, a thrilling hang-gliding journey, or your family's experience at an aquarium, and it makes for a far more humble discourse in which both parties are likely to be able to contribute.

Ironically, even a terrible experience can make for a great story, while a malfunctioning TV is likely to result in something akin to a dose of pity followed by a blank stare. It will also sit there as a reminder of your failed purchase day after day until you repair or replace it.

8. You don't need to continually "upgrade" experiences

The exact instant you sign that contract to buy a new car, phone or computer, it immediately becomes obsolete.

Some of the biggest companies in the world have built their fortune around this model, constantly releasing "slightly" improved versions of the previous to keep people seeking the latest and greatest - an unobtainable goal with no true end that can see you dispensing thousands of dollars like a snake chasing its own tail.

Experiences' static nature, meanwhile, means that you can go - or do - them at any time, and you'll still get just as much enjoyment out of the act regardless. Tropical islands, verdant national parks, or powdery ski slopes don't have used-by dates.

7. Experiences can be shared with friends

Social interaction with other human beings has long been documented as one of the most reliable pathways to happiness, and experiences' inherently inclusive nature makes them something that is best done together. Even an experience that can be done alone is typically enhanced with someone else involved.

Think of the reassurance of your first time scuba diving with a friend along for support; the discussing of a delicious meal or wine tasting with a significant other; the positivity provided for nervous skydivers with a mate along for the jump - plus each of these are memories you'll be able to share together afterwards.

Even looking at our own customer data from years of providing millions of experiences, the average booking clocks in at 2.8 people enjoying them together. It's also much easier to involve your kids and get them enthusiastic about a trip to the local zoo than showing them your new car that has no real intrinsic value to the younger (and uncorrupted?) mind.

"The More the Merrier" certainly applies when it comes to experiences; designer clothing doesn't typically result in making new friends.

6. Possessions can be replaced, memories cannot

After you've finished enjoying an experience, that experience becomes a part of you and contributes in at least a small way to making you the person you are.

Despite our regular contact with our possessions, they never integrate fully into our being quite like our memories do.

Trying a new activity you've never attempted before, or travelling to new destinations can help open up your world view and put you into contact with different cultures or locals you otherwise never may have encountered.

It's these moments of contact with other people, locations and situations that make you more aware of the beauty of our planet, the capability of our bodies, and our place in this current global society which we all share.

Possessions may break down, deteriorate and eventually need replacing, but our memories of our experiences will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

5. You don't need to "compete" on experiences

It's an inherent part of our nature to compare and contrast the things we have with our friends, our neighbours, our family members, and other members of society in general.

In this regard, material objects are more easily compared and can often - intentionally or not - serve as a negative reminder of our current station in life.

There's always someone out there with a bigger house, faster car, or gaudier wedding ring, and the commonness of each of these items means those focused on material possessions will be constantly reminded as to what is supposedly lacking.

One of the best things about experiences, meanwhile, is that the most rewarding among them can be far cheaper than the typically equivalent "high-satisfaction" material goods (such as a car, house, new dining set or HD TV).

Even the simple and wallet-friendly act of going to a discount movie, spotting animals in the wild, or grabbing a bottle of wine and watching a sunset can bring along with them disproportionately high levels of happiness with a minimal monetary investment.

In addition, what is created to be envious on one side may come across as showing off on the other; far few people are likely to be offended seeing you posing alongside a colourful fish in the Great Barrier Reef than with a high-priced car.

4. Looking forward to experiences is more fun

In many ways, looking forward to an upcoming experience can create almost as much excitement as the actual doing of the experience itself; in the same study, Gilovich found that anticipation becomes part of the experience as opposed to a chore.

Our brains typically associate the "planning" stages of experiences - what to wear, when to go, what to bring, and so forth - in a more positive light than focusing on just how high the repayments for that new boat will be. Simply put, imagining what an experience will be like is fun, and scheduling an experience far ahead gives us something to look forward to.

Even the usually frustrating act of queuing for an experience - such as to enter a theme park, or to board a cruise boat - was found to be less annoying than those waiting in line to buy a new product.

If you're got something special, new, or different planned for an upcoming weekend, it can go a great length toward getting through the drudgery of the current work week.

3. Experiences can lead to a healthier life

Putting less of a focus on the accumulation of material goods can have multiple beneficial psychological effects, in both mental and physical capacities.

Those who live less cluttered lives are shown to be less stressed, as opposed to those suffering from "stuffocation"; we often look at all the items we own or clothes in the wardrobe and feel guilty for not getting more use out of them, yet don't want to go to the effort to sell off or dispose of them and feel stress as a result.

While not all experiences are inherently healthy, those who live more active lifestyles typically experience better overall mood levels, longer lifespans, and a more healthy and gregarious attitude - along with a glowing outward appearance.

Even many material objects you may purchase are only there to facilitate the end-goal of an experience in the first place - a surfboard is pointless without the joys of the act of surfing; a snorkel without water may as well be a paperweight; and a hot air balloon is merely an inefficient form of transport without gorgeous views to take in.

Happier people also typically avoid destructive habits like excessive eating or binge drinking alone, which contributes to overall wellbeing and quality of life, while studies have also shown that social interaction can lead to a longer and healthier life as well.

2. The Nostalgia Factor: Experiences actually get better over time

While physical objects naturally degrade and become less shiny over time - the phrase "New Car Smell" exists for a reason - we have a tendency to re-interpret experiences in the following months and years after their completion. There's a psychological tendency for our brains to remember the good things, and even make what at the time were annoyances, into funny or humorous anecdotes.

Reimagining these past journeys has a chemical effect that can return us to the mood we felt during this enjoyable moment in the past (it's one of the reasons specific sights or smells can resonate with us long after), giving experiences a surprising "recurring" value that might not be obvious at the time.

In addition, as we age we'll pass these stories on to our kids, and perhaps even be able to re-visit the destination or re-try the experience with our living legacies in tow.

1. A focus on experiences creates a happier society

Looking at the bigger picture, society as a whole adopting less of a focus on accumulating our own items leads to more flexibility when it comes to altruism; experiential purchases make people more social, giving, and generous as a whole, while helping to build personal identity, self-confidence, and a connection with our fellow members of our local (and global) communities.

More engaged members of society are also likely to "care" more about both their fellows, as well as the natural world and environment which contains them.

A less competitive atmosphere with reduced envy also leads to less hostility as a whole, and less envy of what someone else has reduces incentives for the likes of theft or burglary, as well. What good is breaking into a house that has nothing of material value inside?

More frequent, smaller experiential interactions with friends such as concerts, short trips, or simply going out for dinner result in happiness not just for one person, but a group in one single interaction as well.

An experience can cost something or nothing, be done in pairs or with your extended family; yet each one serves as an individual building block in the construction of you as your own person - something mass-produced physical goods could never do. Things may last longer initially, but it's the memories of your experiences which will linger for the years and decades to come.

Experience Oz

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