I recently read a post on a blog called KeepThrifty about the impact that things and experiences have on happiness. While the author acknowledges that experiences are powerful, he makes the case for the other side: the stuff. After citing from a study that 34% of people reported that material purchases made them happier, he asks the question, "But if these people really are getting more happiness from buying stuff, is it really such a bad thing?"
As a followup to my last musing about happiness, I’ll explain the difference between long-term happiness and short-term happiness and how they relate to experiences and things.
A way to think about happiness is to think about the happiness you feel when you buy experiences versus the happiness you feel when you buy material objects. What I've noticed lately is that people are starting to shift away from the consumerist, materialistic mindset. There’s a realization that experiences are more valuable than things, and I firmly believe this. Here's why.
When I buy an item, there’s a sudden burst of happiness that I feel. It’s the novelty of having something new and being able to satisfy a short-term desire. However, over time, that feeling of short-term happiness fades away. That shiny new thing isn’t so fantastic anymore, and I become indifferent to whatever that thing is. The feeling of joy and happiness I felt when I first bought the item becomes a distant memory.
On the other hand, when I invest in experiences, like traveling or going to an event with friends, a different type of happiness strikes me. It’s an everlasting happiness that manifests as a vivid memory. For example, in 2013, I studied abroad in the Czech Republic. It was my first time leaving the United States, and it was undeniably the best time of my life. To this day, that memory sticks with me. Every time I think about my study abroad experience, it brings me joy. Even though that moment has passed, I’m able to re-live it every single time I think about it, and I feel the same way as I felt when the program ended.
That’s long-term happiness. That’s the happiness that will never die, and that’s the happiness that I’m more than willing to invest in.
The moral of the story: experiences and things can both bring happiness. However, one is temporary and one is (sort of) permanent. You can have both. It doesn’t have to be black and white. However, your money is better spent on the experiences that will bring you everlasting happiness.