Mind 5 min read

Science Says Experiences Make Us Happier Than Material Possessions. Here’s Why.

by Annamaria Nagy December 26, 2017

We all want a bit of adventure in our lives and according to science – experiences make us happier than material possessions, and is the key to feeling truly fulfilled.

In developed worlds, the path to happiness is paved with unbridled consumption. We chase happiness with a relentlessness matched only by our seemingly insatiable desire for material possessions and objects… but it seems we’ve got it all wrong.

2014 study by Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, found that experiential adventures — such as travel, a concert, or viewing exhibitions — were far more powerful in shaping our lives and boosting our happiness than any commercial, material goods.

It’s these singular, novel experiences that enrich our lives — and forge memories that will last a lifetime.

This study reported:

  • Experiences enhanced and strengthen social bonds between people
  • Experiences formed a greater part of self-identity than material possessions
  • Experiences are evaluated differently to — and invoke fewer comparisons than — consumption purchases
friendship and experience

Friendships are one of the most important parts of a happy life and sharing experiences with others strengthens bonds in a way that sharing possessions — for instance, owning the same car — could never do.

As Gilovich writes:

So what we might call the ‘story value’ of a purchase
is greater for experiences than for material possessions.
We feel more compelled to talk about our experiences
and we get more out of doing so.

Simply sharing the same experience as someone else fosters a sense of kinship, friendship, closeness, and mutual understanding.

This study also showed how our ability to adapt can clash with consumption. 

As we grow, change, and evolve, so our desires and needs (which can be tricky when you’ve placed all your hopes at contentment on that new TV).

On top of this, we also adapt quicker to material purchases, thus becoming less impressed with them over time —whereas the opposite is true for experiential purchases.

These findings elaborate on the Easterlin paradox which posits that money does make us happy — but only up to a point.

Once basic necessities, such as food, water, shelter, and a certain degree of comfort are taken care of, the effect of greater riches beyond this is, surprisingly, negligible.

Far from being a mere indulgence, spending money on experiences rather than physical items help to deepen our sense of self-identity — because they form memories which fundamentally become part of who we are. Because we could then recognize, that experiences make us happier.

So, the next time you’re deciding whether to invest in a new outfit or a new experience, remember which one will make you truly happier — for a lifetime.


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Do you spend more money on possessions or on experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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