What is your fondest memory? Maybe you remember an exciting birthday, a holiday with a loved one, or a special occasion. One of my favourite memories is from 2007, when I travelled around Australia; I went to the beach with several people I met over breakfast in the hostel I was staying at. We hung out all day and, when the sun started to go down, someone produced a bottle of wine and lit a campfire on the sand. I remember sitting with flushed cheeks, watching the sparks dance in the dusk and laughing hysterically at something one of my newfound friends was doing. It was a day I am very thankful for experiencing and a moment money could never have bought.
In contrast, I find that I never feel the same level of satisfaction from things I own. Whilst I do enjoy buying things, they just don’t seem to generate the same positive memories. It’s nice to own things, but it is just not the same as experiencing something – which is why I’d ultimately choose to do something rather than own something.
Experiences Over Things
There have 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 you would spend on a two week holiday could easily be spent on a big-screen TV instead – and with a TV, you would get years more of entertainment.
Well, there are actually a lot of factors that contribute to making that two-week holiday a more satisfying and a 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. You might have the coolest gadget for now, but eventually someone will buy something better. And unfortunately this matters to us, because people naturally like to make comparisons to each other – so 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 going to Australia instead of buying a TV; whilst it’s true that I would have received many years of entertainment from the TV, I wouldn’t have any fond personal memories of the what I watched. No one takes a photo of themselves while watching TV so they can put it on Facebook.
3. Experiences are more social
Think back to a time when you went to a concert, music festival or any other large gathering. Some of your most powerful memories of that time will probably revolve around the people you interacted with and the things you shared together. People are naturally social creatures and need the social interaction that experiences provide.
Interestingly, this is also the point where people confuse the joy they get from possessions with the pleasure of an experience. For example, your fondest memories of a material item such as a games console or car are most likely memorable because there were 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 a more positive way 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 items they purchase, but because we compare our possessions to others’, our identity can take a hit when we are inevitably faced with someone who owns something better.
Stuff is Also Good
Ownership isn’t always bad and we need to remember that many experiences come from possessing things too. For example, if you own a bike, you’ll get some great experiences while riding it, or if you buy nice baking equipment you’ll probably celebrate some special occasions over the cakes you make. Overall though, if you spend a little more money on experiences instead of possessions, you are more likely to find greater joy and satisfaction. Ultimately, it’s all about finding a good balance that works for you – but remember, life is for sharing!