Thursday, June 2, 2011

Buy experiences, not things

Research increasingly supports the argument that we derive more happiness from experiencing things than we do buying objects. When we go out for drinks with friends, it’s often the company rather than the drink itself that we’re enjoying. When it comes to luxury cars, the exhilaration of driving one full speed is greater than the satisfaction derived from simply owning it. The same goes for bigger things.

Given the option, we will likely feel happier if we spend a few thousand dollars on a vacation rather than a new car. And while on that vacation – this is important – we’ll enjoy it more if we spend our time sight-seeing, eating, talking to locals, strolling leisurely through the streets at twilight than we ever will by simply buying a souvenir with which to commemorate the trip. Get out of the gift stores and experience the vacation rather than spending your trip buying something to show that you were on it.

The frequency matters more than the intensity. You’ll be a happier person if you meet friends for a cup of coffee twice a week than you will if you meet them once a month for a blow-out dinner. Sure, a European sabbatical sounds great, but you’ll actually maintain happiness more effectively if you take smaller trips more often – case in point? Imagine our despair if weekends were eradicated and, instead, you worked seven days a week. Doesn’t sound like fun, does it? We like our little pleasures.

The dollar amount doesn’t matter. While we will intrinsically attach more value to things that cost more, we can also feel happy no matter what the price we paid. And we can feel unhappy with an experience even though we gave an arm and leg for it. (To be cliché, just ask some men who are dragged to the opera.) Free experiences, then, are life’s little gifts.

A bad experience brings us down more than a bad purchase. So that long commute to work? It will, over time, damage your wellbeing more than living in the condo – the one that’s a little less nice and a whole lot smaller than your crib in the burbs – that’s four blocks from your office. Over time, the emotion you feel from getting to spend more time with your significant other, your children, your dog or even your roommates will ultimately outweigh whatever bliss you thought the house an hour away would secure.

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