In my latest post about minimalism, I mentioned that to me, one of its core values is to shift priorities from material possessions to experiences - whether it is social or self actualization ones. As a study from Cornell University seems to indicate, this "experience over stuff" mindset seems to make people happier.
I wanted to share this study with you because I am actually experiencing this. I don't know for sure if that is the (only) cause, but ever since I started shifting my priorities from growing my material collection to living more experiences and learn more things, I've been much happier.
Here is a short summary of these findings and how they can be linked to other things I have read or watched lately (TED talks!)
The Comparison Problem
It seems one of the main sources of insatisfaction from material possessions is that we tend to compare our collection to somebody else's, and there will always be someone who has more/better objects than you do. As I already wrote about, comparison hardly leads to happiness. It seems that we compare experiences less easily than we compare objects, because it is much harder to quantify, or assess the quality of an experience.
The Paradox of Choice
Here is a great talk by Barry Schwartz about the various problems of having too much choice. Studies prove that, when we have a choice between two equivalent objects, we can be less satisfied by our purchase because we worry that we made the wrong choice. Given the vast array of choice in any kind of object today, imagine how much time we can spend worrying we made the wrong one.
Again, with social experiences or self actualization/learning, the parameter of choice is mostly irrelevant, because each experience is unique.
Setting Higher Standards
I read a piece in the latest Clés magazine, about human adaptability. Among the various topics, one caught my eye: it says that on the flip side of this adaptability, it can undermine our happiness because we adapt to good things, meaning that they become normal and we stop being happy about them. We adapt to this new standard and we set our expectations to that higher level.
On the other hand, getting great experiences help us grow, learn new things, nurture our relationships with other people, which means that on the long term, the benefits of experiences make us happier than new stuff.
So, In Concrete Actions...?
What does "Experiences over Stuff" mean in real life? Of course, it is first and foremost, how we spend our money. If this study is correct, we would be happier spending our income on experiences (travel, night out with friends, museum ticket or week-end away...) rather than material objects. Now, when I save money, it is not for a new console or a new MacBook anymore, it is for a great vacation with my partner, or a triple star restaurant, or weekly violin lessons...
Actually, a good trick I have found is to keep my material needs for (Christmas or birthday) present wishlists. Handling presents can be difficult when your loved ones don't share your vision on simplicity and stuff. So now, I share a wishlist or ask for a more expensive item people team up to get me. That way, they are sure to offer me something I will appreciate despite my minimalist mindset.
Finally, there is always a way to fight this tendency to adapt and get used to new objects, and be happier with what we have, simply by being grateful ...
What do you think about this? What kind of experiences do you (or would you) spend your money on? Are you happy with your material purchases? How to you keep that satisfaction going?