Happiness Comes From Experiences - Time For A Vacation by:Gary Sargent
It's no secret that companies want us to believe that their products will improve our quality of life. From shampoos that will make us more attractive to the latest big-screen TV to blow our minds, advertisements and shop windows are shouting about how we can be more happy if we own their stuff.
The interesting thing is that recent research has shown material possessions are not likely to make us happy at all; the key to a fulfilling life lies elsewhere.
A paper published in the January, 2010 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Travis Carter and Tom Gilovich looks at differences in the way people treat choices involving material goods (toys, electronics and jewelery) and choices involving experiences (climbing the steps of the temples at Tikal, boating across Lake Atitlan). Carter and Gilovich drew some interesting conclusions, including that people become less satisfied with consumer purchases over time, whereas those who had bought into experiences grew more satisfied over time.
A big factor behind this conclusion was that material purchases are easily subject to comparison. In the words of Gilovic, interviewed on BBC Brazil:
"Imagine you buy a flat screen TV, and you're happy with it. But then you come to my house and I have a TV with a larger and better picture. That will disappoint and annoy you."
However, if you go on a Guatemala vacation or a Brazil holiday package and someone else also does the same thing, you will have your own specific memories of the trip, different to the other person - your personal connection with Guatemala and Brazil which no one else has, and that makes the holiday special.
Experiences are individual, and thus non comparable. The study suggests that comparison between material purchases is the factor which breeds unhappiness and resentment, a factor that experiences are free from.
Another key point made by the study is the extent to which your purchase is a part of you. According to Gilovic:
"If you go on a hiking trip to Machu Picchu in Peru or in Patagonia, and the weather is terrible, you might not view it as a pleasurable experience in the here and now. Instead, you may view it as a challenge, and over time remember the positive aspects of the vacation experience more than the negative aspects," says Gilovich, "With material things you can't do this, because they are what they are."
Such memories form part of our character. In comparison, material possessions are exactly that; possessed by us. We feel no true connection with them, and they can be broken or replaced, often with a newer model, not to mention the diminishing appreciation that we feel for material things over time.
So, next time you've got a bit of spare cash that you are wondering how to use or you can't decide on a gift for someone else, consider investing it in experiences. According to the study, you're much likely to be happier, for longer.
About the author
Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and Escaped to Latin America and has lived in South America for over 10 years. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. To learn more or to book your next personalized adventure please visit http://www.escapedtoperu.com