What makes us happier in the long run: life experiences or material possessions?


During some point in our lives, we’ve been asked a question along the lines of “If you were given $1,000, what would you do with it?”


Immediately we think of all the items we could possibly want, such as a wardrobe makeover or the latest electronic. We believe that these and other material possessions will make us the happiest. But is that really true?


The joy of buying material objects amazing at first, but as time passes the glee of these purchases fade because we get accustomed to seeing the objects everyday. We also tend to compare our possessions to others who have something similar. You could have emptied your wallet on a new laptop only to see that your friend has a better one. We then rethink the purchase, and the delight diminishes.


We repeat the cycle again and again as we look for more purchases to achieve another period of temporary bliss. Instead of heading towards our materialistic tendencies, we should spend our money more wisely on life experiences to keep us happier in the long run.


A study from San Francisco State University found that people generally know that life experiences will make them happier, but they decide to buy material items because of the mistaken belief that these items have a greater value.


“We naturally associate economic value with stuff. I bought this car, it’s worth $8,000. We have a hard time estimating the economical value we would place on our memories. It’s almost like people feel they will get no economic value from their life experiences and therefore they feel this tension in spending money on them,” study researcher Ryan Howell said.


In this same study, 154 people enrolled at San Francisco State University were asked about their recent material or experiential purchases. Most of the people surveyed were generally happy with their purchase no matter what it was, but those who bought life experiences tended to sense a longer state of enjoyment during and after that life experience.


Life experiences are more satisfying because they give priceless memories that provide happiness long after the event took place, ones that we wouldn’t trade anything in the world for. The joy of buying material objects doesn’t last forever,  but the memories from life experiences last your whole lifetime.


Life experiences also offer a chance to get closer and bond with important people in our lives if we take them along with us. You’re happiest when recalling and sharing your life experiences with family and friends. Unlike sharing material items with others, they might not give the same value to the material item as you do. When telling your life experiences, your family and friends will be able to sense the type of enjoyment that particular life experience gave you. Sharing your life experiences makes you happier because it fills your need for bonding with others.
While you’re on the pursuit of happiness during your next pay day or shopping spree, try saving the cash for a life experience. As you look back on your the life experience, you’ll be grateful that you chose to purchase a life experience rather than a material object.