It's Not About The Stuff!

Finally! Validation that it's not the stuff we buy that makes us happy, but the experiences we have that make our lives "richer" and more meaningful.

A study published in the January edition of the Journal of Personality and Personal Psychology found that people's satisfaction with their life-experience purchases-anything from seeing a movie to going on a vacation-tends to start out high and go up over time. On the other hand, although they might be initially happy with that shiny new iPhone or the latest in fashion, their satisfaction with these items wanes with time.

What was more intriguing in the article I found that talked about the study was the WHY behind their findings. They included:

  • People are more likely to mull over their material purchases than they are experiential ones, second-guessing themselves about whether they really made the best choice.
  • We tend to think of experiences more on their own terms, rather than in comparison with other things.
  • It's easier for us to decide on an experiential purchase than a material one.
  • We're more upset if we learn that someone else got a better deal, or that a better option exists, for a material purchase than for an experience-related one.

The happiest people I meet are not the most wealthy-they are the ones who value the experiences they have more than "stuff." There is a gleam in their eye when they talk about a place they have traveled to, or a simple planned weekend at home where they did absolutely nothing. It's the experiences that stay with us for a lifetime-long after the "new" has worn off an object we have purchased. We know this, but so often we still focus more on obtaining material items.

What's the bottom line you ask? I'll give you a couple of my applications. First, when I am struggling with exactly what to purchase my wife or daughters I try to think of an experience instead of a physical gift. Secondly, when I am thinking about making a purchase that I think would make me "happier," I force myself to think about what experience I could create for myself or others with the money that would long outlive any material item.

Another example for me right now is the purchase of an automobile. Our car was total lost due to someone else's carelessness. No one was hurt, but now we have to replace the car. As I am planning my purchase, one thing I keep foremost in my mind is this: Making sure that any purchase I make for the physical item (the car) does not inhibit my ability to "purchase" experiences later. In other words, I could spend so much on an automobile that that the resulting payments and overall cost would prevent me (and my family) from engaging in experiences that are far more meaningful and valuable than any automobile. I rarely hear an adult brag about their childhood by saying, "Well, my dad drove a ______________ when I was growing up." On the other hand, I regularly hear adults talk about their experiences growing up and how they treasure them so much more now.

What about you? Where's your focus? Get it right and you'll be happier-the research and our own experience with the topic-bear it out to be true.

Jones LoflinComment