Despite all of our differences, the main thing that we are all striving for is happiness. Ask anyone to cut the bullshit and tell you what they really want – what their heart truly desires – and they will say that they want to be happy. This happens 100% of the time. So, if all of us have the same ultimate goal, then why is true happiness so hard to find?
It has everything to do with where we think happiness comes from. We are brought up from an early age to believe that we can only be happy when we are successful – when we get the perfect job, make millions of pounds, or get married to the person of our dreams. For the majority of people, the concept of happiness is ultimately tied with money. As we believe that happiness is outside of ourselves we acquire money in order to ‘buy back’ the feeling.
Look at lottery winners, as an example. In fact, countless studies have shown that, after the initial spike of enjoyment that comes with the novelty of an unexpected financial windfall, our happiness returns to its ‘pre-rich’ levels shortly afterwards. In the modern world we can pretty much have any material thing we want, given the willingness to go out and get it. The latest gadget, car or home improvement is only a click away.
“Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
In times gone by, when material possessions were not quite as easy to come by, having the latest and greatest thing was a sign that you had ‘made it’. After all, a new phone or television will last much longer than a vacation. Or will it? Turns out that this line of thinking may have been wrong all along and we are beginning to realise (finally) that there is no reward for being the richest guy in the graveyard.
There is now a lot of evidence to suggest that millennials value experiences over things, far more so than any other generation that has gone before. What’s more, there is actual science to suggest that this valuing experiences over possessions is a much more effective way to increase happiness levels.
Here are 8 reasons you should start valuing experiences over possessions:
1) Valuing possessions cultivates a comparative mindset
When we are materially-minded we feel as if we have to compare ourselves with others all of the time. When we shift our value to experiences over possessions we are far less likely to do the same thing, as our experiences are unique to us and speak for themselves. It has been known for thousands of years that material wealth and possessions can cause jealousy and negatively affect relationships. Wars have been fought over it (still are, in fact). On the flip side, experiences are generally not envied, at least not in the sense that a person wants what you have. People, on the whole, are more genuinely interested because there is nothing to compare against. Experiences, by their very nature, are individual, and so are much more likely to be shared in a positive manner, without any need for unnecessary comparison.
2) Our experiences become who we are
Unbeknown to most, what forms the core of our identity is not our material possessions. No matter how many bedrooms you have, what car your drive, or how nice your clothes are, who you ‘are’ is not based on any of these things. Our identity, or personality, is actually a collection of everything we have done, the people we’ve met and the places we’ve seen. Whilst buying something new can give you a buzz it will not contribute to your identity as much as going on an adventure will. What is our personality, at the end of the day? It is an experience.
3) New possessions lose their shine quickly
We have all felt ‘shoppers high’ at some point in our lives – probably when we have managed to buy something we have wanted for a while. Often, we confuse this brief elation for happiness. A year away from now, will we feel the same about our new possession? Unlikely. The problem with being human is that we are very adaptive creatures. We adapt to things in order to survive and thrive and, as a result, any happiness we feel from possessions is necessarily a temporary phenomenon. There are actual studies to back this up. Experience, on the other hand, whilst also temporary, give us the added benefit of a positive memory which we can revisit at any time. The lesson? Realise that everything is temporary and place a priority on creating things that will last the longest, namely memories.
4) Experiences impress the mind for far longer than possessions
On the surface it looks as though a physical object, such as a new smartphone or television, will last longer than an experience. After all an experience is, as it necessarily as to be, a fleeting moment. It is paradoxical, then, that it is the experience that lasts far longer than the passion, perhaps for a lifetime, if only in the mind.
Think about the last time you had an amazing experience. Chances are you can relive it almost perfectly in your mind – the sights, the smells, who was there, what you were feeling. Now think back to your last impulse buy at Christmas. What was it again? Exactly. Now think back to all of the times your grandparents bored you with stories about their childhood. They remembered them as if they happened yesterday. That car they brought in 1986, or the watch your grandad received when he left his job? No idea.
5) We care only what other people have done, not what they have
Take a moment and think about who your closest friends are. The chances are good that they are special to you because of experiences that you have shared together, not things that you have brought together. It is also easy to see that most people just aren’t interested (at least not for long) in what we have. To talk about possessions is seen as boasting and encourages attack. It also makes it less likely you will be receiving party invites. Talk about your experiences, however, and you will have a much more enthusiastic audience, in part because people can relate to you more as a person and may have similar experiences. It goes without saying – a friendship based on an item of clothing or a car probably isn’t going to last, whereas a bond based on shared experiences can’t be broken, no matter what happens.
6) Measuring self-worth by possessions is a dangerous game
Measuring your self-worth and quantifying your self-esteem by how much money you earn or what car you drive is a very dangerous game, one not worth playing. The problem with placing so much importance on possessions is that fortune and fashion can change quickly. One day, we may wake up without a job or a loss of a business that had funded us up until now. One day, we will wake up to find out there is a new model of car out, or the style in which we did the kitchen is now seen as old-fashioned. iPhones change every six months. Learn to base your self-worth on something within yourself – on who you are and what you have done and seen. Then you will know what it means to feel true courage.
7) Valuing possessions over experiences turns you into a slave for money
As mentioned above, there is always another ‘must have’ possession coming out that we must scramble to acquire. It doesn’t take much to see the foolishness of this belief and behavioural system. The hard truth is we don’t need any of this stuff. The human body and mind needs relatively little in order to survive and, once these basic needs are met, the cultivation of greater happiness is a question of experience. By always needing the latest and greatest we find we have to work for far longer than perhaps is necessary. Perhaps the biggest trap is feeling the need to keep up with the people around you. This is a never-ending cycle that is based in the destructive comparative mindset, where we oscillate between feelings of superiority and inferiority. Best to live a simple, minimalistic life and spend what you do have on enriching experiences that will turn into positive memories.
8) Experiences make you more interesting
The guy with the new gadget and designer t-shirt might be cool for five minutes but it is the depth of character you have that makes people stick around. Having a rich and varied number of experiences will not only help your self-growth and confidence, it will also send out a quiet energy that you are a person who knows where they are going. When you have seen and done a lot you naturally exude an interesting persona that people are drawn to. These will be right the people, too – not just someone who wanted to talk to you because you have a nice watch.