Why Experiences are Better than Possessions

by STEVE BLOOM

Houtbay from above

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.

2. Memories

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

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Comments

  1. Experiences are definitely better than possessions. The latter has expiration dates while the former doesn’t.

    Sure it may be true that at some point, money can buy a lot of experiences (e.g. paying for travel adventures). However, these experiences are way incomparable to people who don’t have the money to buy them and yet, they’re able to go to different places.

    Back when I was younger, I had trouble relating with classmates who showed off their latest cellphones and gadgets as I had none. The experience made me tougher because I don’t have to rely on these things at the present. I am not dependent on them.

    We’ll just sound shallow when we talk about material possessions. Experience enhances your credibility and builds character — things that money can’t buy.

    • Hey Ed, I think you hit on something when you said that experiences help build character. They are what help shape our identity and become more meaningful for us.

      I too had trouble relating with classmates who showed off their latest gadgets. I’ve never really been the type of person who is interested in getting the latest and greatest things simply to be ahead of other people. I either prefer experiences or buy things because they are practical.

  2. Stany S says:

    Quite agree here! Good reading as always!

    I also think its better to give a gift that leads to an experience and not to a possesion. For instance, a bottle of wine and some selected cheese will let the recipient have a good time with friends down the road.
    while the funny tie or flower vase will not…

  3. I am not a materialistic person that’s why I agree with most of your points here. I do admit that I am the type of person who would spend most of my money on food and travel 😛 For me, experience is the best teacher – these are life experiences that we cannot fully understand even if we read them in textbooks. We need to feel that moment in order to know it fully by heart.

  4. I agree that experiences and the memories they generate are overall more important than possessions. I still appreciate and want and need possessions, though. I’m very happy I didn’t sell or throw away everything at home like a lot of travelers do. I’d much, much rather spend my money on what I’m doing right now – experiencing the world – than on a home entertainment center or something equally stupid. At the same time, though, it will be really nice to go back home some day, buy some furnishings for my condo and have more possessions again.

    • I like an enjoy the things I own too. I think finding a good balance between experiences and possessions helps. And it’s good to keep in mind that experiences are usually more satisfying.

  5. Steve,

    I too value memories way more than possessions. That is why I love my camera because I have the power to capture a moment in time and forever seal a memory into existance. A TV can’t compare to a sunset. A car can’t provide me the same experience of sking down the slopes. A memory lasts forever where possessions last until their expiration date.

    Great post Steve! Very insightful.

  6. What a beautiful experience, thanks for sharing it. My son have learned to live without all the possessions we once had too, as now we only have what we carry with us in our packs. We’ve lived this way for 2 years and the feeling of lightness is freeing, beyond what anyone can imagine. It makes all of our experiences lighter and somehow gives us permission to be more free. But it’s difficult to relate to this experience until you actually do it. Thank you for this insightful post, it’s helped remind of that wonderful feeling, which now is our normal state.

    • I can imagine how freeing and light it would feel. Living like that would be really interesting, but I can see how it would be hard to explain without actually experiencing it. You make a good point that some people really don’t need all that much to live satisfying lives.

  7. Really good post. I totally agree. I rarely ever come back from a trip with any physical souvenirs. I do things and have experiences. I use my photography as well, and when I look at my pics I’m instantly transported back to the experience, the sight, the situation, etc. There is no souvenir that could take place of standing on Machu Picchu or fighting my significant fear of falling as I climb a cable bridge to do a canopy walk in the rainforest, or of getting on my knees to watch leaf cutter ants clear a trail. There’s just no “stuff” that can replace experiences in my mind.

    • I don’t usually come back from trips with physical souvenirs either. The only time I really get anything is if it is unique or interesting in some way. Otherwise I just focus on having a good time and creating some great memories.

  8. AGREED. Great post. We are taking our three kids to the 48 contiguous states this year. Some of the experiences we have shared and family memories we have created are priceless. http://yearlongadventure.wordpress.com/

  9. I live in an ultra small place so I have to be careful when I pick up new stuff anyways, but I’ve always preferred experiencing something. When I need to remember I tend to just search my photo gallery instead of looking at a tchotchke.

    Just don’t ask me about my shoe/book collection. Those are works in progress. :)

  10. I agree. Unfortunately I’m married to someone who prizes posessions above all else, so being able to salvage funds for travel and adventures over hot tubs and motorcycles is a challenge.

  11. I still remember my first trip to California when I was seven years old. These memories are like little photographs in my head. The people I was with, the rides I went on, the places we ate, all preserved in my mind. Now if you were to ask me what items I owned at that age, I would have no clue.

    Experiences shape the journey of life. When I look back on it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to dwell on the experiences I have had, the lives I’ve touched, and the lives that have touched me – not so much on the 62-inch flat screen in my family room.

    Having said that, I’ve got to get better about putting those words into practice, instead of worrying about how much I wish I had an iphone instead of a blackberry. Great insight Steve.

    Cheers!

    • I remember a lot of the trips I had when I was growing up too such as when my family and I went to Canada or we went camping. Those are the things that pop into my head first when I think back to those times. And while I do still look fondly back on some toys and other things I had, they tend to not be the first things I think of.

  12. Another great post Steve, and a subject that’s close to my heart. I pride myself on the experiences I’ve had over the course of my life. When the day comes where I’m old and grey, I hope I can look back on my life, sit and ponder on what I have seen and done and be content.

    I feel their are many in this world that will get to the same age, with mountains of wealth, sit back and think they have wasted so much of their life in pursuit of the all mighty dollar, and not invested enough time and energy into living.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling when I buy a new camera lens or computer or the like, but would trade any of these things for a great expoerinece. Those experiences for me come in the form of travel and all it offers.

    • I hope I can look back on my life when I’m older and be content with what I’ve done too. From what I’ve seen, most people at that time look back on what they’ve seen and done and not really what they’ve owned. So that’s why I focus more on experiences.

  13. I love this post Steve! I am living proof of that. I almost have nothing in possessions but I feel very rich with experiences. The intangible things are always worth more than the tangible. Thanks for writing this.

  14. i love this. it’s so true. i also take lots of photos, and just love seeing them again (and again)…

  15. Great post and great thoughts :)
    I especially loved this “No one takes a photo of themselves while watching TV so they can put it on Facebook.” hahaha I might go do that right now…

    I definitely need to learn to not be so attached to possessions and I need to learn to stop buying so much stuff. My problem however is that I buy stuff but then I also spend more money to have great experiences.

    This is also why I will never be a budget traveler, I am just not physically capable of doing it, I don’t think haha I would rather spend my last penny on having a great experiencing then saving as much as possible for the “just in case” times or other things. :)

  16. I could not agree more. Possessions come and go but experiences live on forever. I have downsized my life and plan to downsize even more till all I own can fit in a campervan, then I plan to travel the world (or as much of it as I can) and experience as much as possible.
    Great article and love the photos. thanks for sharing
    Regards
    Cindy
    @notjustagranny and @3days_in_london

  17. Found this great post through Sabina’s site and your comment on her Nha Trang trip to Vietnam… and I love the title: “Why Experiences are Better than Possessions” -that is a great concept!
    When you travel you realize how much we collect when we sit in one place too long!
    I love the quote: a rolling stone gathers no moss!

    That photo you have with this post is beautiful!

    I think that when anything becomes out of balance, it is then difficult to fully appreciate the things that matter most… and when we have too much stuff cluttering our lives, too many bills, and too many things that keep us from having the freedom to pursue our passions and dreams -THEN I think that is when we lose out on living life to the fullest!

    Once a person travels and experiences the many beautiful cultures and people around the world, I think that most people then have a deeper appreciation for those experiences! –on the other hand if someone never travels, they never know what they are missing out on!

    It’s also interesting to see the many varied perspectives/comments on your post! We are all so unique and different… another reason it is fun to travel -to meet so many other interesting people!
    -Shelly … (my Nha Trang adventure)

  18. welll i was into the opposition though i liked all ur point which are much logical….. buyt the way u ended up was quite beautful…….yeah the good thing is balancing over time how have u planned ur life to go..but of cousre xperice is much better than aquistion…………

  19. Hi Steve,

    Interesting post. When I was younger this is ‘exactly’ how I used to view things – the fact that a material item would last longer seemed logically to have more value.

    Now, I have flipped that perspective. You are right also about people. It is the connection with people that gives the material things their perceived values over time, and not the item itself.

    The big difference for me though is growth. Experience expands us as people which is of exponential value.

    Keith

  20. Agree. You learn so much more from life experiences than chattels. Nobody can ever take your experiences from you either!

  21. Hi, Experience is a wonderful feeling that nobody can take away from us. I totally agree with you. Thanks for sharing Great Read.

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