Massage or New Shoes? Why Experiences are Better Than Things

Posted by Jill Chivers in Attitudes and Habits, Shopping, Clothes and Emotions

I’ve been pondering lately the value of experiences over things.  In recent research, we’ve learned how much more memorable and satisfying experiences are than material goods.

Last week, in an effort to regain some buoyancy to my flagging energy, I took radical action – I decided to take the afternoon off every day from Tuesday to Friday.  I had to plan for it, to make sure all the important fundamentals were taken care of, but it was a wonderful week.

Every day, I looked forward to the morning’s work, knowing that come 1pm, I’d be logging off and heading out to do something interesting, relaxing or fun.  We did something different each day (an exhibition, a picnic, a movie).

I got more done

I fancy I got more work done, too, by being super focused in the mornings and having this reward sitting there in the afternoons, waiting for me. 

This week was so successful, I’m thinking of instituting this as a once-a-week ritual (at least), as I gained so much from it. Not only did I feel more productive, but I just generally felt better.  Happier.

The nature of experiences

It got me thinking about the nature of experiences, and why they have such a long lasting effect on us. 

I remember like it was this morning the day we got to pat the cheetah cubs inside the cheetah reserve at Stellenbosch outside Capetown and how magical those 15 minutes were. 

I remember so clearly the evening we went to see ‘Wicked’ in London’s West End, including the Tube ride where we sat next to a woman with a guide dog. 

I remember the picnic we had last  Wednesday, and the quiet sense of magic I felt sitting and watching the ocean at Noosa, half an hour from our home.

I remember how lovely it was to sit outside this morning and enjoy the last of the winter sun as I enjoyed my morning Irish Tea.

Memorable and satisfying experiences

don’t remember so clearly the feelings I had the day I purchased 4 pair of shoes, or those two animal print jackets I got on sale in Toronto, or the morning I spent inside Macys at Union Square in San Francisco. I remember the events (and I have the visual reminders of those shopping trips in the form of those clothing items) – but I don’t remember the feeling.

Those purchasing events weren’t memorable or deeply satisfying.  They were just things I did.  Akin to washing the dishes or hanging up the laundry – no more or less memorable or satisfying.

What experience could I buy with this money? 

One of our My Year Without Clothes Shopping Program members reported in the Members Only area how when she sees something she likes in a store, she does the calculation to what experiences she could purchase with that money. 

Let’s say it’s a handbag with a price tag of $160 – if she didn’t buy the handbag, she could instead purchase two massages, or buy a train ticket for a weekend away. 

I love this idea – it makes tangible the translation from Thing to Experience.

Buy experiences rather than things

In a recent Research Dialogue in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the authors (Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson) propose that

“If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right”.  They go on to list 8 principles of spending money that will maximise happiness. 

The first of these princples is to buy experiences instead of things.  They say that the reason experiences are better than things are:

  • we adapt to things so quickly and they lose their lustre more quickly than the memory of an experience
  • we anticipate and remember experiences much more than things
  • experiences are more centrally connected to our identities than things
  • experiences seem as unique as the people who are having them
  • experiences are more likely to be shared with other people

Your mission

Consider doing an “experience for things swap” when you next feel the urge to splurge. 

Rather than buy that thing, consider an experience you could ‘swap’ for it.

See it as a curious experiment you’re going to try, just to see what happens and how you feel – not just that day, but long after.

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