Travel makes us happy. That is not in dispute (at least…not for me! :-))
According to relatively recent research done by Professor Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University, the sum total happiness we achieve from experiences (like traveling) is greater than the sum total we receive from buying material possessions. As it turns out, most of are not that wise about that fact and we end up making dumb decisions because we think dumb things. For example, we think that because we’ll have a material possession for a longer period of time than we’ll “have” an experience, the material possession will make us happier. But, nope!
Professor Gilovich has been studying happiness for several years now – especially the science of material possessions vs. experiences. Here’s his take:
“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.”
So an experience makes us happy before, during, and after. A material possession makes us happy during…well, for a little bit. But it turns out, that doesn’t last either. As Gilovich says:
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. 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.”
Material possessions are starting to sound like kind of a raw deal. And they are. In a study in 2014, Gilovich found that overall, experiences are more important to us because they become part of us. Experiences “enhance social relations” (more than material possessions), form a bigger part of our identity, and don’t cause us to compare ourselves with others as much as material possessions.
Two years prior to that study, Gilovich had done another one where he found that people regret not doing things more than they regret not buying things (I personally have never regretted NOT buying something – I mostly regret the buying!).
And experiences help us relate to other people. In other words, people want to hear about your weekend in Fiji and talk to you about it – but they don’t necessarily give a rat’s ass about your brand new television.
So, as I always say at The LITMO Life, making yourself truly happy by finding a life that fits – including experiences and not things – is a good place to start. Once we figure out what makes us happy, we should do more of it! And then, we should start figuring out how to make others happy and make the world a better place.
Travel makes us happy. No big surprise there. 🙂