Happiness Battle – An Introduction
Are you happy? It’s a soul searching question, isn’t it? Finding happiness is a lifetime quest, not just a quest for today or tomorrow.
But what brings happiness? Perhaps in order to answer that question, we need to first define happiness. Dictionary.com says that happiness (or being happy) means:
- To be delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.
- Characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy.
There are other happiness definitions, but these two address that happiness can come from things, or from pleasure, contentment, and joy.
‘Things’ is easy to define… they are material in nature and easy to obtain. But from what do we get pleasure, contentment, and joy? The answer is in experiences. Feelings of happiness can come from a variety of experiences that we may have an opportunity to take part of in life.
Family, love, adventures, achievements, etc. All of these are experiences, or come from having an experience.
So two of the roots of happiness come from experiences and things.
But which one is more important? According to psychology experts, there is an answer to that question. The rest of this post will talk about the battle between these two roots of happiness, that is… Things Vs. Experiences
“But I Like My Stuff” – The Cycle of Possessions
We all like our “stuff” and we also all love the latest and next best thing.
But this desire for possessions is faulty and doesn’t lead to long-term happiness. Happiness from things will always fade away, followed by a desire to obtain happiness from a new thing.
In fact, the American Psychological Association has suggested that Americans’ well-being has, if anything, declined since the 1950s, while our consumption has only increased from the purchase of material things (APA.org).
The idea that the secret of happiness comes from materials, is a paradox that all of us need to really consider. In the end, the purchasing of materials creates a cycle that is hard to break. Here is each step of the Possession Cycle.
Part 1 – A New Possession is Purchased, Our Happiness Goes Up
As mentioned previously, we do find happiness from buying things. The initial purchase is always the best. A new gadget, a new car, a new house and the list could go on.
Most of the time it’s exciting and our happiness goes up; however, sometimes the item purchased isn’t what we had hoped for and we have buyer’s remorse, which immediately lessens the happiness factor.
After buying something new and experiencing a rise in happiness, we enter part 2 of this cycle.
Part 2 – Our Possessions Become Old, Used, and Lose Their Excitement
Thomas D. Gilovich, a professor at Cornell University, who has studied human behavior and specifically how happiness can be found in things and experiences said, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” Gilovich said. “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” (Research at Cornell University).
It’s this adaptation that makes our possessions become old, used, and lose their excitement. At this point, the happiness from the purchase has declined and we start seeing our “things” as old and used. They just aren’t exciting anymore.
This typically results in an increased desire to get something new, so we start looking…enter part 3.
Part 3 – Commercial Pressures – The Bar Keeps Getting Raised
There is more that we can buy and have today than any generation before us. Technological advances continually march forward, becoming a part of our everyday lives. If you think about it, our entire economic system is about buying things.
“Compared with Americans in 1957, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often, and enjoy endless other commodities that weren’t around then” (APA.org).
There are huge amounts of commercial pressure to buy, buy, go into debt, and then keep buying! There will always be a next year’s model, or future product that is better than the one that we have right now.
This “bar” for products and lifestyles is continually being raised through commercial pressure. And this is a huge issue because once our possessions become old, used, and lose their excitement, our addiction to buying new things is reinforced by just going into a store and seeing the window sales!
This then leads to the fourth part of the cycle, jealousy and a desire to match.
Part 4 – Comparing, Jealousy, and an Ever Increasing Desire to Match
Everyone knows someone who always has the latest and greatest, whatever…boat, car, house, other toys. All of us have looked at that person(s) and thought… “I wish I could have ____”, whatever the item is.
This creates a society of comparing, jealousy, and an ever increasing desire to match with one another. “I want what the Joneses have, and only because they have it!”.
Part 4 is the part of the cycle that leads to the buying of additional things, often in a compulsive sort of way.
This Cycle Shows Us…
This cycle really just shows us that…
- If you want things to waste money on, buy more items!
- Buying things can only produce a short-term burst of happiness.
The end result is that we shouldn’t be spending our hard earned money on things, but rather on experiences.
ACTION STEP: Consider your own life. Are you in this never ending cycle of possessions? If so, the first step is to understand that you are indeed within it. The second step is to stop buying things. Read on for what you should be spending your money on instead…
“I Want to Be Happy” – Experiences are the Secret
Experiences deliver more-lasting happiness than things that we can buy. This is due to three positive things about experiences:
1. Experiences Become a Part of Who We Are
We all have a personal identity. Our circumstances and differing life situations make us all unique. Part of the reason why experiences are so valuable is because they also make us all unique. What we see, feel, touch, and experience becomes a part of us.
In a way, we are the accumulation of everything that has happened to us in this life. Professor Thomas D. Gilovich mentions, “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” (Research at Cornell University).
2 Anticipation Increases the Experience
Again, Professor Thomas D. Gilovich says, “People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession. They think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they’ll be left with little compared to owning an item.
But in reality we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession”(Research at Cornell University).
3. Experiences Are Short, Which Makes Them More Valuable
Even though experiences are short-lived, they actually have the reverse effect on our happiness. These fleeting memories are the key to happiness.
With things, we tend to have more disappointment and buyer’s remorse. Sure, buying a new car is really cool, but in the long run, it will never be worth the money that a dream vacation with your spouse would. Experiences may be fleeting moments, but that’s OK! The short time is part of what makes these experiences more valuable to us.
What this Shows Us…
So remember, when in search of happiness, go after experiences… not things. They have a lasting impact and higher levels of happiness because they:
- Provide long-term happiness.
- Add anticipation, which fuels the desire to experience more things.
- Provide value to our overall happiness level, which things don’t.
Are You Losing the Battle?
So are you losing the battle between things versus experiences?
Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, talks about “puddles of pleasure” in relation to buying things. Our happiness will evaporate more quickly and leave us wanting more when happiness is derived from the buying of things.
However, paying for experiences tend to flow into a much larger lake, where evaporation occurs, but at a much slower pace.
When your “lake” is full of experiences, your life will also be full.
Dr. Dunn also wisely said, “If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right” (Harvard Scholar).
So whenever you are questioning what to spend money on, remember that long-term, true happiness comes from experiences.
Experiences Don’t Have to Drain the Budget
The reason this topic is in the money management category is because it’s easy to think that we have to have a lot of money to experience things.
But the reality is that we don’t. Anyone who is good at budgeting, saving money, working their debt destruction plan, saving for retirement, can invest some of their hard-earned money into experiences. It’s all a matter of managing your money!
Look at your budget. How much are you spending on things that aren’t buying you happiness? Get rid of those things, and you’ll have an increased number that is already within your budget that can help you have more experiences. You can also increase your income, giving you more to play with too.
**And remember, experiences don’t have to mean “vacations”. They can mean date nights with your spouse, or a day at the park with your kids. Vacations are definitely experiences, but remember to fill your life with other experiences everyday and you’ll have a much happier life!
The Happiness Challenge
So are you losing the battle of happiness? If so, take this Happiness Challenge:
Spend one month reducing the amount of money that you spend on things, and increase the amount spent on experiences.
ACTION STEP: Take the ‘Happiness Challenge’! Remember that happiness starts with you! Write out a list of experiences that you want in life. Save your money for those.
Go have an experience of a lifetime! Spend your hard-earned money on those things, and not materials that will lose their happiness value.
Final Thoughts on Things Vs. Experiences
We are all in the pursuit of happiness. The good news is that it can be found at anytime and anywhere. If you want to be happy, you can, and one way to do that is by buying experiences. Buying things can give you happiness, but it just won’t last.
The great news is that happiness is a choice. It always will be. You can gain power over your life by addressing this battle.
One of the keys to happiness is to have as many experiences as possible. The best things to spend money on are frequent experiences. Pay for them. Love them. And remember to be happy!
Take a few minutes and re-evaluate your priorities when it comes to these two issues… buying things and experiences. Take the Happiness Challenge and then re-evaluate after a month! If you feel happier, try it for a year. Doing so will help you to gain power over your life!