There is age old question: Can money buy happiness? We do know that is can certainly ensure that all of our basic needs are being met. That’s something to be happy about. But, how can you get the most happiness out of your money? Perhaps the better question should be: How should one spend their money in order to be happy?
A case could be made that buying an actual physical object would yield the most happiness because this “thing” is going to stick around for a long time: a stylish new wardrobe, a brand new car or a sleek couch. A vacation or other experience, on the other hand, is going to be over and gone pretty quickly.
But, research actually shows the opposite is true. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the correlation between money and happiness, explains that this is because of the human tendency to adapt. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” says Gilovich.
To create long-lasting happiness, you are better off spending your money on experiences like dining with friends, enjoying the arts, learning a new skill, or jumping on any chance to travel the world. These types of experiences give us something that simply buying inanimate things does not: connection with others and making memories that can be relived and enjoyed for many years to come. One thing that many happiness researchers have been able to agree on is that humans are social creatures and we need close relationships in order to thrive and be happy. Aside from the social connections that take place when you spend your time and money experiencing life instead of accumulating things, you are also much more likely to connect with somebody when you share vacation stories rather than the fact that you have the same iPhone case.
Think about it from this angle: On your deathbed, are you going to be looking back and reminiscing on that big screen TV you bought and that shiny gold watch that you took out and wore a couple times a year? Not likely. Instead, you’ll conjure up memories of exotic places you enjoyed with loved ones while experiencing new tastes, sights and sounds. You’ll remember how you felt watching that sunset on the beach and walking hand-in-hand with your partner. You’ll distinctly remember the smell of the air at the peak of the snow covered mountain you were preparing to ski down with careless whimsy and the big smiles on everyone’s faces when you met down at the bottom.
Dr. Gilovich further explains this phenomenon as he tells Fast Company, “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.”
Instead of making a list of ‘things’ you wish to spend your future hard-earned paycheck on (i.e iPhone, clothes shopping, a bigger house, faster car) you’d be much better served to consider the fun in making a bucket list instead. What fun experiences do you still wish to accomplish in your lifetime? Perhaps you can finally take up that hobby you’ve been thinking about or go on that adventurous trip that’s been in your dreams. What new and exciting places in the far corners of the world would you like to travel to? Think of the different cuisines, culture, colors, and concertos you can experience whilst crossing these amazing travel destinations off your list.
While the verdict is still out on whether or not money can buy you happiness, we know for sure that what you decide to spend your money on can definitely influence the happy factor. It certainly can buy that trip to Europe or that cruise to the Caribbean. It can take you to pristine beaches in Hawaii or to explore the exotic wildlife in Australia. You never hear anybody say, “I really regret taking that vacation,” but buyer’s remorse is a common after-effect in the accumulation of things.
Science tells us that the travel stories to share and memories gained will trump the buying of any ‘things’ you can collect and show. Nobody wants to hear about your new refrigerator, but that trip to Bali and how you stood up on a surfboard for the first time will guarantee you captive when it’s time to share.
Travel transforms you by taking you out of the comfort of your daily grind and allowing you to experience wonderful new things. It blesses you with the opportunity to connect with new people and gives you fun new experiences to share. Sounds pretty happy to us (certainly happier than maxing your credit card at the mall on new things to collect dust with). So, get out there and see the world with a big smile on your face. Happy travels!