Anyone who has travelled will tell you that experiences are more fulfilling than things. But why is this? For many, the thought of having the latest iPhone, a new watch or a car makes them happy. But there is evidence to back up the theory that travelling and experiences will make you happier than material possessions.
Many studies into the subject have been done in the past. One from Cornell University has proved that humans receive more gratification and lasting pleasure from an ‘experience’ than they do from an object. The reason for this is adaptation.
It’s obvious that wealth brings about happiness, however this is only for a very limited time. Over time, humans become accustomed to money and begin to take what they have as normal instead of a blessing. This works in the same way as processions. Think about it. When you bought that new iPhone, it probably felt good. It’s nice to have nice things. But how do you feel about it now? Most probably, it’s become a normal part of your day, a tool to use.
An interesting survey by Pew Research Centre in 2014 found that, in general, people in many developing countries where reporting an increased level of contentment than from the last study seven years previously. However, in more developed countries like the USA, there was very little or no increase. This also suggests that there is also a curve with money (and therefore processions) vs. happiness. A little more can give you the freedom to do the things you want and have less financial worries, but the more you have the less happiness you receive.
Memories of experiences work differently. You probably don’t look back on the television you had in the 90s with great fondness, but a trip to Cornwall or Peru or France will have left lasting memories that you will look back on with increasing joy.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” explains Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University.
This also goes for negative experiences you may have gone through. Something which may have seemed traumatic at the time, can often be looked back on with rose tinted glasses in the future. Those who travel a lot can often find things which are negative as well as positive. These are things that become part of you and dictate your thinking. No one looks back on a laptop they split coffee on and think it was character building.
Another 50-year study on happiness from Berkeley University found that the emotion comes from social interaction. The study found clear links between meaningful relationships with other humans and happiness. Those who led a more isolated life were less fulfilled. Unfortunately, modern technology like social media doesn’t increase meaningful relationships. There is no substitute to face to face human interactions.
Travel is a wonderful life experience that helps you build bonds with others. Even if you weren’t together on the same trip, you are much more likely to forge a relationship with someone based on common life experiences than through the things you own. So, what are you waiting for. Forget buying yourself the new tablet computer and book a holiday instead. You won’t regret it.
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