What makes you happier, experiences or things. Evidence based research.



Now that I’m stuck inside I have been thinking much more about what makes me happy and how to increase my happiness.


We just cancelled our Europe holiday planned for this year - will I be happier if I plan another holiday for later in the year or should we spend the money renovating our back deck? It seems intuitive to think that purchasing something tangible such as a new car rather than a family holiday will give us pleasure over a longer period of time. The holiday is quickly over but the car lasts much longer. But...


I did some investigation and research has a clear answer on what will make me happier. Drum roll.... The holiday. Here’s why:


Tangible things, like our renovations, stay the same so we get used to them. The happiness that we felt when they were new quickly reduces - called hedonic adaptation (Gilbert, D).


Experiences, on the other hand, make you happier because there is less hedonic adaptation. Compared to purchasing ‘things’, ‘experiences’ make you happier during the anticipation phase, during the experience and even after the experience (Boven & Gilovich).


The anticipation of an experience makes you happier because there are more unknowns. If we are looking forward to a new car for example, we know what the car looks like, smells like and probably have even been for a test drive. But with travel we don’t know many of these things - it’s the excitement of the unknown that makes us happier.


During the experience we are also happier - have you ever been away for a three week holiday and it has felt like you have been away for a couple of months? This is because time seems to go slower when our brain is processing and learning new things.


After the purchase - we are also happier with experiences compared to things. Our memories are heightened, we remember the exciting moments, we reminisce.


One surprising thing is that even our friends like us better when we are relaying our experiences compared to our new ‘things’. People prefer to hear about your experiences and not your stuff (Boven).


So I’m choosing travel for later this year - it will make me happier and more likeable now and in the future.


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