Why Are Experiences More Important for People Than Material Objects?

April 7, 2017
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Most people are in pursuit of happiness, and although we’ve been taught that money can’t buy happiness, a new study from the University of Cambridge found that money can make you happier if it is spent on the right things. (Manji) When spending money, it is very common for people to assume that long lasting objects provide happiness for a longer time than an experience. (Bradberry) But in reality it is the other way around, material objects cannot be compared to experiences and how they affect people. We adapt to objects which makes them lose their value, while experiences are difficult to adapt to, making their value greater and more important. (Manji) Also, objects may be able to excite you, but they are not able to play an impacting role in our lives like experiences do. (Bradberry) There is a huge amount of benefits in experiences and how they impact us greatly.
It is in our human nature to adapt. We’ve seen it in science, we’ve seen it in history, and it is also seen through various aspects of psychology. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University psychology professor once said: “Adaption is happiness’ biggest enemy.” (Manji) This is shown when people stop caring about an object as they initially did, what once was stimulating won't take long to become a norm. (Bradberry) It is believed humans stop caring about objects because they adapt to them; purchasing material goods may satisfy a desire at first, but what was new, exciting, or surprising at first becomes part of their daily life and loses its initial value. (Pozin) On the other hand, when analyzing people’s reactions towards an event they appear to be completely different. Normally, an experience like a trip, a vacation, or a day at the park will not last long enough for the person to adapt to it. Even then, the memories that the experience brings are not constant enough for them to lose their initial value like an object would. (Manji) It is also seen that envy affects people and makes them believe the value of their objects decreases when being compared to newer objects. (Do Experiences) For example, I am thrilled by the new bag I just bought until a friends buys a better one, immediately we get used to a new possession and will look for a better one. As Travis Bradberry, author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence said: “New purchases lead to new expectations.” When buying a material object, you know exactly what you are buying and what to expect from it, but experiences are always improbable, no matter how much you anticipate it you can never know what to expect. (Manji)

Feelings play an impacting role in our life, especially happiness. It is shown in recent research from San Francisco State University that people who spend money on experiences rather than material items were happier. They quote: "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." But material objects like clothing, technology, or gadgets, are not able to bring long term happiness or satisfaction. It is better to feel good than to look good, (and you can still look good with not very expensive clothing.) (Pozin) Unlike material goods, experiences change the way we are feeling, most probably for a long standing time. As humans we are shaped, since we were toddlers, by events, even the ones we don’t think are important. (Bradberry)

Objects can’t provide people with social interaction or activities like experiences do. People who have more constant social interaction experience less stress, depression and feeling of isolation. Exercise and/or being active increases the  happiness of an individual (an activity or event may lead to being active, therefore increasing happiness). A new $800 television for your living room won’t give you social interaction or help you be active. But if you use part of that money to go to any experience, like a trip to a water park or an getaway of your choice, the experience is more likely to change something for you and make you happier. (Do experiences) It is shown that events have a greater impact on people, especially looking at a long term picture. Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University said: “Participants who were in the experiential condition said that they were more likely to consider their money well-spent at that time but also that currently their purchase was still making them happier, and made others happier.” (For Happiness) Material objects are like “puddles of pleasure,” a kind of happiness that evaporates quickly at leaves people wanting more. “The paradox of possessions is that we assume that the happiness we get from buying something will last as long as the thing itself.” (Bradberry) However, experiences bring stronger memories than objects, and even after the event has ended the memories will be long lasting and impacting. (Manji)

Experiences become a part of our identity, we are shaped by events. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. We assume that buying or investing money in something we can see, touch, hear, etc. on a daily basis permanently or for an extensive amount of time will bring happiness for a long time and deliver the best value.” (Bradberry)  But in truth, experiences have an extensive role in our lives that we don’t even notice. We normally adapt to objects and this changes their value to us through time. (Manji) But people will never get to have the identical experience twice, and the memories along with the happiness created by experiences can last forever. (Manji)


Bradberry, Travis. "Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

"Do Experiences Lead to Greater Happiness Than Material Purchases?" Get Rich Slowly - Personal Finance That Makes Cents. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

"For Happiness, Spend Money On Experiences." NPR. NPR, 25 Dec. 2009. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Manji, Sakina Shabbir. "EXPERIENCES OVER MATERIAL." Travelstart Tanzania's Travel Blog. N.p., 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Pozin, Ilya. "The Secret to Happiness? Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

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