Leaf Van Boven, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who has studied the topic of happiness and well-being, says that if you really want to be happier you need to stop buying more stuff and start doing more. “An orientation toward life experiences tends to make people happier than an orientation toward pursuing materialistic goods.”
Van Boven explains that this is because experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation. The appeals of purchases soon wither after acquisition but experiences quite literally get better with time. This process of positive reinterpretation means that you get to enjoy your vacation again and again even long after it’s over. We had a great time when we took the kids to Australia. I’ve already thought less of Jacob vomiting at the breakfast table and more of the magic butterfly dances and the sleepy koalas.
Another reason you should focus on experiences rather than buying objects is because “experiences are more central to one’s identity”. If you think back on who you are, most likely it’s because of what you’ve experienced and not what you’ve bought. That perfect sweater or cool bracelet didn’t make you who you are today and you certainly won’t remember it when you’re old and gray. We would do best to forgo that impulse to amass more materialistic goods and instead plan on using that money in learning to dive or ride a horse.
Because we’re in Guam and are lucky to have such proximity to different countries and their diverse cultures, we’re taking advantage of it. But, your next family vacation needn’t take you to another country; it can easily be a weekend in the woods camping. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money to fully appreciate the experience. Some of the best moments of our Australia trip were the simplest. I can still see the look on my children’s faces when Jacob ate his first ice cream cone,Brianna held a butterfly and Gabby danced in the water fountain.
Don’t forgo certain life necessities in favor of experiences. We all need to prioritize and focus on what our family needs. But if you’re debating whether to buy a new car or save for that family vacation, go for the family vacation. Experiences will contribute more to you and your child’s happiness than buying the latest car model. Remember that your life is a collection of your experiences not your possessions. For more ideas on how to focus on more fun and less stuff go to the Center for a New American Dream.