Saturday, October 7

Once More With Feeling

To say it's been a bad week is probably an understatement. Shootings in Vegas, attacks in Edmonton, and the death of a rock icon. I decided to rerun the blog I posted in June, not long after my husband and I saw Tom Petty in concert. At the time I was concerned about the money the concert had cost, but since I'll never get another chance to see Tom Petty in concert again, I'm very glad we went. You just never know.
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.


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.
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?


  1. I like this post, Jana. I still come down on the side of experiences, and am glad you and your husband had the opportunity to see Tom Petty.

    1. Yes, we're glad, too. Most experiences give you lasting pleasure in your memory. But I still need a new couch!

  2. Experiences definitely. Although sometimes I forget that. Thank you for the reminder:)

    1. I forget, too. Sometimes I get so caught up in money issues I forget that what we do is usually way more important than what we have.