Science Says Experiences, Not Things, Will Make You Happier

Dana Covit

We may all have had the hunch, but a new study out of Cornell University confirms it: Experiences deliver more long-term happiness and contentment than material possessions do.  

Rooted in the Easterlin Paradox, which finds that money may in fact buy happiness, but only up to a point, the new studies suggest that because experiences become a part of our identity, they serve to enrich our lives more deeply and permanently. Though material possessions—the shiny car, a new pair of shoes—are seemingly “forever,” us humans actually possess an extremely high aptitude for adaptation, which means that every new possession will, sooner or later, loose its luster, and no longer provide us that jolt of happiness as it once did.

Interestingly, even negative experiences (being fired from a job or completely missing a flight, for example), may ultimately have lasting positive impact on our lives. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, coauthor of the study, attributes this to the fact that stressful or traumatic experiences, when shared with others after time has passed, may be looked at as invaluable character building, or even help us relate to others. Additionally, shared experiences serve to connect us more deeply to others than consumption does. You will likely have a more important and meaningful relationship with the person you went on a cross-country road trip with, rather than with someone who drives the same car as you.

So, the next time you go to cash that paycheck (or perhaps when your tax return comes back with a happy sum—fingers crossed!), you'll want to reconsider that big-ticket purchase and head to the museum, buy those concert tickets, or book that trip you've been keeping on the back-burner, instead.

Do you agree that experiences have more power to make you happy? Tell us in the comments!

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