If you stop and think about your last year for a minute, what are your best memories? We allow ourselves to guess that they’re nothing about that new cellphone, or a car that you bought. Quite possibly you might be thinking of a trip abroad, a concert of your favorite band, or some other joyful event. If this is the case, it’s backed up by science.
According to a research carried out at Cornell University by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades, the stuff that we buy can bring us happiness only for a short amount of time, while the memories of experiences can keep us happy as long as we remember them.
#1. Money buys happiness, but only up to a point
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed,” Gilovich. “But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” Consequently, our satisfaction with the things we buy goes down.
#2. Experiences become an ingrained part of our identity
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “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.” Therefore, going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling will make you happy much longer than the latest iPhone.
#3. Even negative experiences can become positive with time
Gilovich conducted a study which showed that even if people experience something negative, when they get a chance to talk about it to others, the assessment of the experience goes up. Gilovich explains this phenomenon by stating that something that might have been a scary or stressful ordeal can turn into a funny story to tell, or looked back on as an important lesson that helped in building character.
#4. Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption
We’re much more likely to feel a connection with other people through shared experiences than shared consumption. Just think about it, would you rather engage in a 2 hour conversation about your 4K TV or your last trip to Thailand? “We consume experiences directly with other people,” says Gilovich. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”
#5. We’re less prone to negatively compare experiences than goods
One study conducted by researchers Ryan Howell and Graham Hill found that experiences are harder to compare than physical goods, so people are less prone to compare them.
“The tendency of keeping up with the Joneses tends to be more pronounced for material goods than for experiential purchases,” says Gilovich. “It certainly bothers us if we’re on a vacation and see people staying in a better hotel or flying first class. But it doesn’t produce as much envy as when we’re outgunned on material goods.”