Humans fall into the trap of thinking that they will be happy and their lives will be complete when they… get into that school… get that degree… get that new job… earn that specific amount of money… buy that car… build that dream house… blah… blah… blah…
The truth is that the happiness we get once we achieve the goals and milestones, if we get the happiness at all, doesn’t last long and weans quickly. The weird thing is that we continue believing that the next thing is the answer and will do it for us, even after we’ve just experienced that let-down again and again and again. What’s even weirder? We’ve known that things do not create lasting happiness for a long, long time.
Research has shown that happiness does go up as your money goes up, but only so much. Once your basic needs are met, more money is responsible for only a little more happiness. Research has also shown that experiences create more lasting happiness than material purchases.
At first, that doesn’t seem logical. How could something that you purchase and possess for a long time not create longer and more happiness than an experience that comes and goes? For one, we get used to our physical possessions, and they lose their wow factor over time. Experiences, on the other hand, are engrained in our memories and enrich who we are, what we’ve done, and where we’ve gone.
I committed to filling my life with experiences a long time ago. I remember certain objects from my childhood, like a few different BMX bikes I had, a really nice skateboard, and the first waterski wetsuit that I paid for with my own money. Aside from really only being able to think of a handful of objects that were truly memorable, even the ones I could remember didn’t elicit that much emotion. What I remember more, and get a bigger emotional kick out of, are the tricks I learned to do on those BMX bikes (along with the crashes), the time with buddies on the bikes and the skateboard (that skateboard got stolen, Ugh!), and thrill of being on the water while wearing that wetsuit.
Buying things for the sake of having those things gives tiny bursts of happiness, much like a piece of regular bubble gum. An initial flood of goodness, but just aimless chewing after a very short time. The remaining emptiness leaves you wanting, and actually needing, more and more.
Years ago, I purchased a large motor home. This thing had lots of features. And I was impressed with how complex and amazing they were making these huge buses. I was very conscious about the fact that I was buying this motorhome, not for how it looked or what others thought of it, but for the experiences that it would provide for my family. And now, years after that has been sold, I don’t think about the number of TVs it had, how big it was, or how sharp it looked. I remember the kids playing board games on the road, cooking out at campgrounds, fishing trips, sporting events, and settling in on my in-law’s farm.
As the happiness in America seems to be dwindling, I recommend committing to creating more experiences rather than obtaining more stuff. We need to go, do, and see. Even in a time like this, when travel might be limited and social connection might be more difficult, you can make experiences a priority. Explore new hiking trails. Pack up and go for a picnic. Start a new hobby. Plan a future trip.
Unlike material possessions that end up in the attic, covered in dust in the corner of the garage, or eventually discarded, experiences remain in your memories, come up in stories, and add to our life’s story.
It’s not the motorhome my kids tell stories about today, it’s the exciting, adventurous, and entertaining things that occurred as a result of having that motorhome.