For most of us, capitalism and a drive to keep up with the Joneses keeps our society in constant debt. We crawl through the financial turmoil in order to have the flashiest whip, the trendiest threads, and mortgages on homes that we will be paying off until we are are too old and feeble to even live in them any longer. Growing up, didn’t we want more than nice things? Didn’t we want that little old thing called happiness? Don’t get me wrong, having nice things can create a feeling of contentment or thrill. However, in such a fleeting time walking the earth, we rarely take a step back to realize that we’re missing out on much more.
American society places a lower value on experiences than some others. We place high value on working with less on getting time off to see and do more that the world has to offer. Our government funds don’t put a high emphasis on creating parks or recreational programs and often cut them from the budgets.
The myth: “material possessions last longer than one time events such as vacations or concerts.”
The truth: buying things makes us happy. But, when their novelty of newness wears off, we no longer feel that same way. On the other hand, spending our hard-earned and (for most of us) limited cash on experiences and travel, we can get more happiness in the long run.
The Easterlin Paradox was a concept derived from the phenomenon that happened when Americans in the 1970’s were not happier than before, despite rising incomes of the time. On the other hand, the Pew Research Center has found that internationally, among 43 countries, happiness showed a strong correlation with wealth. Emerging countries showed that were far happier than in the years before. However, it seemed that already first-world nations were stuck at the same, or in fact, slightly lower levels of happiness despite having wealth. Perhaps, money truly does buy happiness—but only for a little while. True happiness is what we get from sharing moments that actually make us feel alive.
Human Connections Through Experiences
Shared experiences or similar circumstances that someone else has had, grows connections and relationships with other people. Two friends that both traveled together backpacking through Europe will feel closer than with individuals who might both happen to drive BMWs. Similarly, conversations with new people become easier and can lead for potential friendships or other relationships through finding commonality in the things that they have been through. Our lives are comprised of moments we have that we turn to stories we share with others. The stories we share then get passed through others.
Stuff is NOT our Identity
In 7th grade science class, there was a poster that hung on the wall of the room that said something like “in 10 years, no one will remember what clothes you wore, but what person you were.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing because of how long ago that was. However, the message was something that forever resonated with me. Think about it like this, if someone asks to describe yourself, there’s no way you list off the items you own. Instead, you discuss the achieving moments of your life: hobbies, which university we attended, what we do for a living, things we’re good at, etc. We are a sum of our experiences. We are a blank canvas that gets colored by the stains we pick up along the way through life.
Even Negative Experiences Make us Happy
Dr.Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, who studies the connection between happiness and money, found that even bad experiences are worth the experience. He found that once indiviudals talked about their experience that may have been totally terrifying or stressful at the time, telling it in the present made it at a party would actually make it be a funny story. In fact, it’s a huge character-builder.
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