Research has shown that material things do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more fulfilling. Most people make the logical assumption that because an object lasts much longer than a 1-week vacation, it will make us happier for a longer period of time. It turns out that this assumption is far from true. Basically, as people adapt to material things, such as a brand new toy, a new car or a new phone, these things quickly lose their novelty and become part of the norm. Memories and experiences, such as a one-on-one date, a wilderness adventure or a celebratory trip have the opposite effect, they linger in our minds and tend to get fonder as time goes by.
According to well-known psychologist, Dr. Thomas Gilovich, “we buy things to make us happy, and we succeed, but only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” So, rather than buying the latest iPhone, thinking that this will change who we are, Gilovich suggests taking a break from work to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish, an experience which will more likely help shape our identity.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “we can really like our material stuff. We can even think that part of our identity is connected to those things but, nonetheless, they remain separate from us. In contrast, our experiences really are part of us. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
As per tradition, most of us have already purchased gifts for our loved ones this year and, clearly, we don’t have to be so quick to go back to the store and return them. But, what we CAN do is consider adding some experiences to these gifts or, over time, slowly transitioning to more experience-based gifts. At the end of the day, the memories which will linger from these experiences is truly what matters most...