Saturday, June 17

Things or Experiences?

www.TomPetty.com
A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I drove eight hours (one way) to the Twin Cities – St. Paul, Minnesota to be exact. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were making a stop there on their 40th Anniversary Tour, and my husband really wanted to take in the concert. It was a bucket list thing for him. I’m not as big a Tom Petty fan, but it was a fabulous concert and we had a great time.

Except…

We need a new couch. We’ve had the one in our living room for nearly twenty years, and I’m totally over the floral design. Not to mention the cushions compress to almost nothing when you sit on them.

For the cost of the concert tickets, the hotel room, gas, food etc. (all in US dollars, which means it costs roughly $1.30 Cdn for every $1 US we spend), I probably could have purchased a new one.

But which was more likely to make me happier? The experience of the concert, or a new couch?

Science has proven that we made the right choice by going to the concert. Research conducted by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has shown that the happiness derived from things fades quickly. Even though things last longer, we get used to them and they eventually become background. And once the thrill of the new possession fades, we’ll want something bigger and better. Like if I get a new couch, I’ll probably want new coffee and end tables, too. But even with new furniture, our house will never be as nice as our friends’ place. It’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses. And trying only makes us unhappy.

We accumulate things throughout our lives, but do we really need so much stuff? Last year my cousin Val and her husband walked the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) in Spain. The experience profoundly changed the way she looked at possessions. After living for nearly a month with very little in the way of possessions, she realized how few things she really needed. When she got home, she embarked on a purge.


Experiences have power. We are everything we’ve experienced in our lives. According to Dr. Gilovich, “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."

We can’t compare experiences like we can compare possessions. I can compare my car to yours and come away feeling envious of your luxury sedan. But my holiday with my family might be harder to compare to your Caribbean cruise. There’s no way of measuring the happiness we each received and that’s a good thing.

The great thing about experiences is how much we anticipate them. I’m really looking forward to our trip to Nova Scotia in September. Research says that anticipation is part of the reason experiences are so valuable. So, to enhance that anticipation, we should spend the summer planning our vacation and figuring out where we want to go and what we want to see.

www.novascotia.com
Even if it rains the whole time we’re in Nova Scotia, we’ll probably come away with great memories. Experiences are fleeting, and they get better in our memories as time passes. But if you bought an expensive new gadget and you were disappointed with it, it’s constantly in your face, reminding you of your disappointment. If you take your family on a beach vacation and the rain keeps you indoors, you’ll likely say it gave you the opportunity to spend time playing board games and having fun together as a family. No one ever says “At least my computer and I got to spend quality time together” when it is slow to load. Even a bad experience can become a good story.

So all in all, I’m happy with our concert experience and I’ll remember it for a long time. But we still need a new couch!

What makes you happier – experiences or possessions? What’s an experience that has really made you happy, or at least provided you with a good story?

8 comments:

  1. A great post. Make no mistake, growing up without material things makes me appreciate the ones I do have a lot, but I'll take the experience over the couch any time.

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    1. I grew up without a lot of stuff, but I had everything I needed. I guess I can make do without a new couch for a while, especially considering how much money we spent this year on our new kitchen!

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  2. What a good post and an interesting thing to consider. I have to confess I have a lot fewer "things" at the lake than I do in our house in the city, but when I'm at the lake, I don't miss any of the city stuff...

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    1. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I feel I can get by with a lot less stuff. When we had most of our stuff from the kitchen packed away during the reno, I didn't miss a lot of it. I gave away quite a few things rather than stick them back in the cupboards.

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  3. The other day st work we were talking about this and the Carlin routine, "Stuff". I definitely would love more experiences than stuff--if only I had time to purge :)

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  4. Margie, try moving house. It's a great form of forced purging. Between 1987 and 1998, we moved 4 times. Each time I had garage sales, gave stuff away and made donations. It forces you to get lean and mean. But now we've been in the same house since 1998 and the stuff is accumulating. Maybe it's time for another move!

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    1. In 2003, we abandoned our black-mold infested home with our clothes, toys that could be sterilized in the dishwasher, tv's and computer, and the wooden secretary desk I inherited from my great-great aunt. And maybe a couple van loads of sterilite containers. We started over with bed frames and mattresses bought from Goodwill, a card table and chairs, and hand-me-down couch from my parents. But, it didn't take long to reaccumulate once we bought this house in 2007. LOL

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    2. Wow, talk about starting over! That must have been tough, but it speaks volumes about your resiliency. And it also shows you can get by with very little if you need to.

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