One of my fondest memories happened just one year ago. It was early in the evening in San Antonio and I was having a cold lager in the city’s famous Riverwalk district. I had traveled all the way across the country to see a place in the United States my fiancee raved about. She was right. The Riverwalk in San Antonio is a vibrant, fun-loving place. It’s a place I’m very thankful for experiencing.
In contrast, I find that I don’t have the same satisfaction level for things I own. While I do enjoy buying things here and there when I need to, they just don’t seem to generate the same positive memories for me. It’s nice to own things, but it is just not the same as experiencing something. Which is why I generally choose to do something rather than own something.
Experiences Over Things
There have actually been many studies on how people rate their satisfaction from experiences and possessions. Overwhelmingly, the results have shown that people have greater satisfaction when they spend money on experiences instead of possessions. But why is this? The money I spend on a two-week vacation could easily be spent on a big-screen TV instead. And with a TV, I would get years more of entertainment.
Well, there are actually a lot of factors that go into making that two-week vacation a more satisfying and better decision.
1. Possessions are more comparable than experiences
When you buy something like a TV, car or mobile phone, you’re getting something that most other people also own. Eventually someone will buy something better. This matters because people naturally like to make comparisons to each other. When someone buys something better, your item becomes less impressive and your satisfaction for it goes down.
However, experiences are not easily comparable. Even if the experiences are similar, it is still more difficult to make comparisons since no two experiences are exactly the same. And it seems that anything people can classify as uniquely their own makes them happier.
Experiences are more memorable than possessions. You might remember what was going on when you bought your first car or TV, but I doubt that they are fond memories. It is this reason why I don’t regret seeing San Antonio instead of buying a TV. While it’s true that I would have years more of entertainment from the TV, I wouldn’t have any fond personal memories of the shows I watched. No one takes a photo of themselves while watching TV so they can put it on Facebook.
3. Experiences are more social
Remember back to a time when you went to a concert, fair or any large gathering. Some of your most powerful memories of that time will probably revolve around the people you interacted with. People are naturally social creatures and need the social interaction that experiences provide.
It’s also at this point where people confuse the joy they get from possessions. Some of your best experiences with a car or video game system will probably be when other people are around. In these circumstances, it is the social experience that brings the most satisfaction, not the items themselves.
4. Experiences make you feel alive
One of the most interesting things about experiences is how they can make you feel alive. Just as exercise increases overall health, the vitality that comes with experiences can be invigorating. It’s the difference between climbing a mountain and seeing the view from the top and just watching a video of the view. The accomplishment is uplifting and good for the soul.
5. Personal identity
Experiences affect people in different ways than possessions. Because the satisfaction we get from experiences comes internally, we identify with them more closely. It is true that people have the ability to identify with the items they purchase. But because items are much easier to compare with what others‘ have, your identity can take a hit when we are inevitably faced with someone who owns something better.
6. Taking care of stuff
When you’re looking at that large screen TV in the store, your mind is probably thinking about all the shows or video games you’ll enjoy on it. However, there is one more thing to consider: maintenance. After you buy this TV, you have to store or sell the old one. Then when you buy the next TV, you’ll have to store or sell this one. Add up all the things you own and that is a lot of things to keep track of.
Plus, there is the cleaning, moving around and repair that goes into it all. That takes up a lot of time and energy. Plus, at what point does it all become clutter? Too much stuff to take care of is just a hassle.
Stuff is Also Good
I don’t mean to come down too harshly on buying things. Like I said earlier, I do buy things here and there. I just tend to focus more on experiences. I also realize that many experiences come from owning things too. For example, if you own a bike, you’ll get some great experiences while riding it. Overall though, if you spend a little more money on experiences instead of possessions you’ll find greater joy and satisfaction. It’s all about finding a good balance that works for you.
photo credit: mallix