Money… whether we like it or not, it’s what makes the world go round. In most cases, we work in exchange for money, which we use for food, water, clothing and shelter. Once we have enough money to address these basic needs of survival, we then have the pleasure of using whatever is left over for leisure – to help in our pursuit for happiness and to live an abundant and exciting life. So what generates happiness? At the end of the day, it really comes down to just two things… experiences and material goods.
Now for most people, there is a limit to the amount of money they acquire. You might earn a wage, a salary or an income stream each week or fortnight for example. So if the money you earn is a limited resource, wouldn’t you want to allocate it in a way that maximises your overall happiness? So, what should you spend your money on… experiences or things?
Let’s first identify a very common misconception that society has about physical goods. Most people believe that because a material object will last longer, this will in effect provide longer lasting happiness then a one-off experience or event. This is in fact a complete load of $#!t. In a study completed by Cornell University in New York, Dr Thomas Gilovich a psychology professor who has been studying the link between money and happiness for over two decades sums it all up by suggesting that ‘adaptation’ is the enemy of happiness. Buying something new does generate happiness up to a certain point, but it is when we adapt and become used to that object that the excitement and happiness starts to wear off. So instead of going out and buying the latest and greatest gadget or toy, this study suggests you’ll generate far more happiness by spending your money on experiences. The kind you get from doing something out of the box and different, like I don’t know… what about travelling!
In my own experience, I believe there is a direct relationship between travelling and happiness. The more you travel, the greater your happiness. Let me give you a quick example about the lasting effects of material goods vs. experiences. I remember not so long ago being convinced that I had to get my hands on the latest iPad mini. It was going to revolutionise my entire life. It didn’t matter that I already owned a MacBook laptop. That was old news. Plus, it couldn’t do half of the things my new iPad Mini would be able to do – like listen to music, download cool apps, use the internet and take it wherever I pleased with it being so compact *insert sarcastic tone here*. Today, I can report that although my iPad mini has been quite handy and practical in the past it now never leaves the house, I forget to charge it all the time and I never find myself telling people stories about all the cool things I use it for. That iPad cost me $450.
In September of 2014, myself, my boyfriend and 4 other friends of ours left the Colombian coast on a 32 foot yacht ready to make our way across to Panama via the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean. Over the next 4 magical days we sailed through crystal clear water next to several dolphins. We bought fresh lobster from local fishermen and cooked them up for lunch. We snorkelled amongst some of the most beautiful corals and marine life. We bought fresh coconuts straight off the tree. We made friends with our fellow passengers who from all over the world – the UK, NZ, Sweden and France and on our last night we drank rum and watched the most magical sunset from the front of our yacht.
Just thinking about our time in the Caribbean makes me smile and I never get sick of telling this story to anyone who asks me about it. This experience did more than just provide a good story to tell, it changed my perspective and made me appreciate the simpler things in life. This experience also cost $450 and I can assure you that it was worth every penny and if the opportunity presented itself, I would do it all over again. I think Dr. Gilovich explains it perfectly by saying…
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods, you can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
Think about it… I bet your photo albums aren’t full of pictures of the new washing machine you bought or the rug that perfectly matches your couch and I bet the most exciting stories shared around the dinner table don’t revolve around the brand of TV you decided to buy.
Experiences shape and define who we are and even a bad or negative experience is said to contribute to our overall happiness. An event that at the time was stressful or problematic often becomes a funny story to tell others later on… like the time we experienced our first 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Nicaragua or the stories of how I managed to lose 4 toenails in two separate occasions within 4 months. But that’s a story for another day…
They say that money can’t buy happiness and this is true because happiness is not a tangible product that comes with a price tag. But in the end it’s not the tangible objects that deliver the most happiness. Buying an experience, which generates a feeling, which creates a memory and follows with a story is at the heart of what makes us truly tick and contributes to a life full of excitement and abundance. At the end of the day, it’s not the years in your life that matter, but rather the life that you put into those years. Just remember this, no one is going to stand up at your funeral and tell people you had a really nice couch.