We like buying things, at least we think we do. It’s bred into us. Life in the 21st century is a fast paced, consumer oriented experience where media surrounds us at all times enforcing the idea that happiness is a matter of buying the perfect house, driving the best car, wearing the trendiest clothes and posting status updates on the latest high tech devices. Everywhere we look we are inundated with the same message: “BUY, BUY, BUY your way to happiness!” While buying a new gadget or the first drive in a new car may be satisfying or thrilling for a short while, the thrill always fades and we find ourselves back in the same place seeking the
Recent research from San Francisco State University found that people who spent money on experiences rather than material items were happier and felt the money was better spent. The thrill of purchasing things fades quickly but the joy and memories of experiences, from epic adventures to minute encounters, can last a lifetime. Next time you’re feeling a bit down or lacking in some way, before you go out and buy things remember these five tips for evaluating your spending and decide to have experiences instead of just accumulating stuff.
1. It’s The Little Things
Size doesn’t matter . . . in happiness. Most people equate large purchases with large amounts of happiness, and while it’s true that buying a Maserati may give you more of a thrill than dining out with your friends, the thrill of a fancy car will soon fade and with the money you spent you could dine out a couple times a week for years in the company of friends and family. Those less intense, but still enjoyable evenings out in the company of loved ones will provide a much longer lasting and more fulfilling happiness than the temporary thrill of a large purchase. Plus, people who have more frequent social interactions live longer, healthier lives and experience less stress, depression and feelings of isolation. Small expenditures of money involving social interactions such as dining out, getting a manicure with friends, going to a concert or meeting up for drinks are a great way to de-stress, have a great time and create lasting memories. Little bits of happiness add up and when spread out, last alot longer!
2. Giving Is Better Than Receiving
Few things provide a lasting sense of happiness and fulfillment like giving to others. There is very little you can do for yourself which will have the same effect as doing well by someone else. Keep this in mind next time you’re wandering the mall, window shopping every store. Instead of seeking out things you may want to buy for yourself, go on a hunt to find the perfect item to surprise your best friend or significant other. Buy your mom a fresh bouquet of flowers or get your dad a new sleeve of golf balls. The experience of surprising a friend or loved one with an unexpected gift will not only make their day, but leave you feeling great about yourself, and that joy will last unlike your temporary excitement over a new watch.
3. Renting Many Beats Owning One
Why buy a vacation home when you can rent 10? Most people’s dream of buying a vacation home in Hawaii or owning a sailboat centers mostly around fantasies of laying in the sand or being out on the open water. Very seldom does the fantasy include remembering to pay the utilities or ensuring that a bilge pump is functioning properly. Resist the urge to spend huge sums of money on anything that you can rent. “Exotic items” like vacation houses, RVs, cars, boats, horses and even high end designer clothes can all be rented. The money you would spend to own any one of these things could be used to rent all of them and the benefit to renting is that you aren’t responsible for it once you’re done using it. Be honest with yourself, how many times a year can you really afford to fly to Hawaii and stay for weeks at a time? For most people, it’s not nearly enough to justify purchasing a vacation home and the same goes for most other exotic items. When you rent, you just show up and have a great time and when you’re done you head off to your next experience without any of the burdens and responsibilities of ownership and having spent a fraction of the money! Long story short: You don’t really want to own a horse, you want to ride a horse and there is a big difference.
4. Feeling Good Is Better Than Looking Good
Be honest with yourself, are those $500 jeans going to make you happy tomorrow? Next week? Now how about a $100 pair of jeans and a $100 massage every Friday for the next four weeks? Trying to look like a movie star or a fashion model is a pricy endeavor and in the end the only one who comes out ahead is your credit card company. Instead of spending your hard earned bread on clothes and jewelry to make yourself look better, spend that money on activities that will make you feel better. A gym membership or bi-weekly trips to the spa is a great way to pamper yourself and de-stress and you’ll come away from a visit feeling refreshed and invigorated unlike walking out of a department store feeling guilty for overspending. Think about it like this: The price of one
5. Learning Lasts A Lifetime
One of the very best things you can do with money to maximize the happiness return on your financial investment is learning a new skill or hobby. Take a class in woodworking or skydiving or fencing or quilting (yes, quilting.) Buy private golf or tennis lessons. Learn to surf. Enroll in a creative writing class or learn to paint. Get yourself a camera and join a photography club. Not only is the act of learning a new skill fun and rewarding but you will broaden your horizons as a person, giving yourself fun new activities that you can participate in for a lifetime of fulfillment while expanding your social circle at the same time. Spending your time and money on the development of new skills is a fantastic way to meet new people and explore new avenues of life you may never have considered. The thrill of exploration can come from learning to tango, you don’t have to climb mountains. Expanding yourself as a person will expand the ways in which you can experience joy, there is almost no downside. So go attend that transcendental meditation weekend retreat you’ve been dreaming of, it’s money well spent!
With all things in life, there is no guarantee that you will always have a good experience. You may very well return from your epic vacation to the Brazilian rain forest with saber-toothed monkey lice, shit happens. But nine times out of 10 you’re better spending your money on experiences and other people than on yourself. You’re much more likely to have genuine, fulfilling happiness as a result. So remember: You want be happy? Stop buying things and start buying experiences!
Photo credit: Roderick Eime, Flickr