The Pursuit of Happiness

Pursuit of happiness

They say money can make you happier. We all work hard for our money and after spending it on regular necessities, for most people, there’s not much left over. It’s little wonder we want to make certain our limited resources are well spent.

Spend your limited resources on experiences and not ‘things’ says science. Many of us believe that buying material things will leave us happy, however, according to a recent study (Thomas Gilovich – A wonderful life: experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness), researchers have found that experiences deliver a greater lasting degree of happiness.

Here’s why:


Gilovich says “we buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

We’re thrilled when we get a raise at work, or buy that new car. The thrill however fades quickly. Our raise is no doubt absorbed into our budget, often referred to as ‘lifestyle creep’, our car loses its new car smell, and soon, a thirst develops for the next ‘thing’.

Experiences however, are a much bigger part of ourselves.


“If called upon to write our memoirs, it is our experiences we would write about, not our possessions”, says Gilovich. “…our experiences collectively make up our autobiography. In a very real and meaningful sense, we are the sum total of our experiences. We are not the sum total of our possessions, however important they might be to us.”

Going out and buying the latest Android phone is unlikely to change who you are, whereas , a short trip to hike the Grampians National Park, or cycling The Peaks Challenge most likely will.

Oh the anticipation

Think about the enjoyment of your last material purchase. How did you feel leading up to the purchase? Maybe a little impatient?

Compare this to how you felt leading up to your last experiential purchase…from the moment you started planning, right through to the memories. It was probably filled with excitement and enjoyment.

Oh the disappointment

Have you ever bought something and thought to yourself, “well…that wasn’t worth it”, while it stares at you for as long as you keep it in your possession. We rarely do this with experiences.

Even the disappointing concert or the holiday that didn’t turn out as planned are quickly rationalized and accepted, “it was great to get everyone together at least”. Studies show that once people have the chance to talk about a negative experience, their assessment of that experience goes up.

Keeping up with the Jones’

Research suggests that we tend not to compare experiences in the same way as we compare material items.

In a Harvard study, when people were asked if they’d rather have a high salary that was lower than that of their peers or a low salary that was higher than that of their peers, a lot of them weren’t sure. But when they were asked the same question about the length of a holiday, most people chose a longer holiday, even though it was shorter than that of their peers.

Its difficult to quantify the relative value of any two experiences, which makes them that much more enjoyable and valuable.

Material purchases may last longer than experiences, but it’s the stories that matter the most. It’s the memories that help shape our identity. Next time you’re thinking about how to spend your limited disposable income, ask yourself what really makes you happy. After all, you’ve worked hard for your money.