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.
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?