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.

11 thoughts on “Stop Buying and Start Doing

  1. Totally agree. I lived in Asia for two years and of course bought things. But when people ask about the trip, it’s never the items nor even the number of trips, but the experiences. “I stood under a waterfall in Laos,” “a jarring trip to the Hanoi war museum” or “dancing all night in a Beijing night club.” Too many people spent time haggling in street markets for things that would, at best, become trinkets on a shelf somewhere.

    When I did buy things, I tried to make them symbolic as the place. A soldier in Nepal sold me his military-issue ghurka knife. That was an item – but it was also an experience!

  2. Excellent point Chris. It’s why I love taking photos. They mean more to me than anything else. They trigger the experiences themselves.

  3. I definitely agree. All of my favorite memories from childhood are of family vacations – skiing, camping, road trips, etc. Even though our daughter is only 20 months old, she’s been more places than my husband went by the time he was 20 years old! We plan about 2 big trips a year, plus little weekend visits here and there. We know our daughter won’t necessarily remember many of these trips right now, but we have the pictures to look back on – and tell her all about them.

  4. Dawn

    This is one of the reasons I take pics. It’s so I can show my kids what they saw. If it triggers their memories and adds to their recollection then it’s all been worth it.

  5. Hi Dr. Cason,

    You’re right on with this post. Material things are so disposable.

    And yes, you don’t have to go too far to create free memories. Even a walk in the park, feeding the ducks or playing Frisbee can be great fun. It’s too bad society (and advertisers) are trying to teach us otherwise.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..The Biggest Mistake I Made In Blogging

  6. Yes and this applies to business as well. I coach small business clients, many who are self-employed soloprenuers. It always amazes me how much thinking and analyzing they do without taking action. You have to try different actions to realize what you couldn’t see before. Doing is the preferred route to happiness in business as well.

    Tom Volkars last blog post..The Three Most Direct Ways to Earn More Money Now

  7. I work hard to always be aware of creating memories. It’s the reason I often push myself to participate in events or slow down and be in the moment as much as possible.

    Great post. 🙂

    To Think Is To Creates last blog post..Pure Bliss

  8. Barbara-

    Your absolutely right. We can listen to ourselves. We can listen to what makes us happy.


    Breaking the mold and taking a risk can give great rewards if we risk it.

    To Think-

    It’s all about memories right? That’s all we have really.

  9. Lisa- I think the same thing. Especially when we take the kids camping. It’s little expense and no TV. They get to run around and play and I get to sit back in a chair and just watch the world go by!

  10. I agree ..why have we turned into such a materialistic society?

    My friends all think I am weird because I am not into possessions ..I would much rather spend money on providing a home for a homeless animal than on jewellery or a large TV.

    Of course my children never go without things, it is just my choice to not want to spend my life always wanting bigger, better, dearer THINGS!

    Mad goat ladys last blog post..What do you mean move over?

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