Bucket lists are all the rage, and it’s no surprise. Despite our overstimulated and consumerist culture where there’s always something to do and something to buy, we’re slowly realising that you can’t take your possessions with you and quality time is priceless.
Whether you’re the type of person who loves nothing more than saving up to buy the latest technology or a brand new wardrobe each season, it’s worth thinking twice about how you spend your hard-earned cash. Here are four reasons why investing in experiences pays off much more than buying objects ever could.
1. Experiences make us happier
We’ve known for some time that looking after your money and avoiding financial stress is good for your well being. And now new research shows that the way we choose to spend our money has a big impact on our happiness.
While a week’s holiday may seem like a short-term pleasure compared to a top of the range TV or new clothes that could last for years, studies show that it’s actually the experience that makes us happier in the long run.
As part of a major study, psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich asked people to self-report their happiness with major purchases, and found that although material and experiential purchases were ranked about the same initially, over time people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, while their satisfaction with the experiences increased over time.
The ‘more experiences, fewer objects’ approach has been advocated by James Wallman, whose popular book Stuffocation: Living More With Less argues that we could be much happier if we swapped our objects for experiences.
According to Dr. Gilovich, our satisfaction with material objects dwindles because we rapidly get used to having them, while experiences are intertwined with our identity. Crucially, shared experiences connect us with other people in a way that objects don’t: a holiday with a group of friends forges bonds and creates memories that can last a lifetime.
2. Millennials are onto something
There’s a good chance we’re preaching to the converted here as studies also show that a large majority of millennials already prefer to spend their money on ‘doing stuff’ rather than ‘buying stuff’.
A study of American millennials found that 78% would rather spend money on a “desirable experience or event” than on buying something desirable. The reason for this is clear, and chimes with Dr. Gilovich’s findings: 69% believe that attending live events and experiences makes them “more connected to other people, the community, and the world”.
When I speak to friends about this, they’re quick to agree that it’s the experiences that matter to them most, and that last the longest. A colleague tells me; “Experiencing nature in all its glory in a Canadian national park was one of my highlights. Although it was expensive, the experience was priceless. I still think about it and it fills me with joy.” And travelling to Amsterdam at the weekend to visit his family was worth far more than anything material: “I wanted to hold my little nephew (who can now say my name!) and hug my friend who is recovering from cancer.”
3. Experiences make great gifts
There’s a lot to be said of giving the gift of an experience, rather than an object, to someone you love. It’s something you can tailor to their interests and experience together and, whether it ends up being good or bad, you’ll have a shared memory.
Another colleague tells me that her family emphasises experiences when it comes to gifts: “Christmas these days never fails to involve a mixture of holidays, tickets to music and sporting events, day trips and memberships.” The Olympic velodrome cycling experience that she bought for her dad a couple of years ago was a particular highlight: “I got to go and watch him, and I’ll never forget how happy he looked on his bike that day!”
4. Experiences are perfect for curing FOMO
There’s a social media dimension to all this too. Snaps of the amazing place we’re visiting or the brilliant band we’re watching have a lot more social currency than showing off the new product we’ve bought.
Sure enough, the study of American millennials showed that craving recognition and a ‘fear of missing out’ were driving millennials’ experience-seeking. This links back to Dr. Gilovich’s point about identity: having these experiences and sharing them on social media gives us the sense that we’re building and reaffirming our identity.
Embracing experiences over shopping
So next time you’re thinking of buying the latest phone or a new jacket, consider investing your spare cash on art exhibitions, sports events, gigs, learning a new skill or travelling.
A friend summed it up perfectly when she said: “I think once you start spending your money on experiences, and the more you do it, the more important it becomes to you. Life’s so busy, it flies by, and taking time out to do things that you enjoy, whether on your own or with people you love is so much better than spending your money on things, and the memories last forever!”
Do you spend your cash on objects or experiences? Tell us in the comments.