Experiences make us happier than objects

There is a saying “You only regret the things you didn’t do”. And there certainly is something in that. At least if you believe scientists at Cornell University in the USA who have researched what makes us happy. Experiences beat objects every time.

Many of us are constantly trying to be happier. And unfortunately a little too often, we probably confuse the temporary happiness we feel when we buy objects with real happiness. Nevertheless, a research team at Cornell University has reached some exciting conclusions. Experiences such as trips, outings and concerts make us far happier than objects. No matter how expensive and great the things we buy.

Skip the dress. Go away for the weekend instead. 

A fairly common and logical idea is that things – which last longer – are more valuable than temporary experiences such as concerts and trips. But in reality it’s just the opposite, researchers claim. The main problem with objects is that we simply get tired of them. The rush of happiness we feel when we buy them subsides in a few days. People are expert at adapting and so we very quickly get used to the new jacket or the cool new car.

Experiences on the other hand, even if only brief, can live on in our memories long into the future. Sometimes for the rest of our lives. Like that time we saw our favourite singer perform live when we were younger. Weekend in Copenhagen. Or our first excursion with our partner.

Investing in experiences is an investment in yourself 

Thomas Gilovich is a professor of psychology and leader of the research into what makes us happy. One of his findings is that we regret the things we didn’t do far more than the things we didn’t buy.

“We are the sum of our experiences,” says Gilovich, “our experiences are so deeply associated with our innermost being that an investment in experiences is an investment in ourselves in a completely different way than an investment in an object. We can be very fond of our material possessions and feel that they are a part of our identity. But they can never be a part of us in the same way that an experience becomes a part of us.”

How a bad experience becomes something positive 

Experiences and adventures can make us happy even if they are BAD. So how does that work? Well, that terrible day with the pouring rain, the missed train and the spilled coffee can become a funny story. One that you can tell again and again and make both yourself and those around you laugh. And suddenly a bad experience is a positive memory. A small building block in the foundation of your happiness.

That experiences make us happier is also connected to the fact that it is a social activity or can create social connections. Trips, concerts and parties are often experienced together with friends or family. On the other hand, an experience could lead to funny anecdotes that you can tell others.

Go away more often. Make more friends at home. 

On top of the fact that travel makes us happier, our experiences can help us make new friends. We feel we have more in common with someone who has had the same experiences than with someone who happens to have the same type of mobile phone. We simply find it more interesting to talk to someone who has visited the same gallery in Gothenburg, gone kayaking in the exact same Norwegian fjord or enjoyed the same wood-fired jacuzzi.

So… Make the most of opportunities that come your way and invest your money in things that, according to the researchers, will make you happy. Choosing between a sofa and a trip? Skip the sofa.