Here is a blog post written in 2008 about psychological studies which show experiences are more likely to make us happy than material possessions. Here is an excerpt which provides three reasons why experiences trump material goods:

1. Experiences improve with time (possessions don’t).
The reason why experiences improve with time may be because it is possible to think about experiences in a more abstract manner than possessions. For example if you think back to a fantastic summer from your youth, you might easily remember an abstract sense of warm sunshine and exuberance, but you’re less likely to remember exactly what you did day-by-day. On a moment-by-moment basis you might have been quite bored, although you’ll tend not to remember that.

Material possessions are harder to think about in an abstract sense. The car you bought is still a car, that great new jacket you picked up cheap is still just a jacket. It’s more likely the experience of that summer has taken on a symbolic meaning that can live longer in your memory than a possession.

2. Experiences are resistant to unfavourable comparisons
It’s well established that social comparisons can have a huge effect on how we view what might seem like positive events. One striking example is the finding that people prefer to earn $50,000 a year while everyone else earns $25,000, instead of earning $100,000 themselves and having other people earn $200,000 (Solnick & Hemenway, 1998).

In other words it’s not about how much we earn, it’s about how much we earn in comparison to other people. It’s the social comparison, then, not the actual amount of money, that affects how we feel about our earnings.

A similar effect is seen for possessions. When there’s so many flatscreen HD TVs to choose from, it’s easy to make unfavourable comparisons between our choice and the others available (check out Barry Schwartz on why too much choice is bad for us).

Experience, however, seems to be more resistant to these sorts of unfavourable comparisons. To explain this phenomenon, Van Boven puts forward the idea that it is because of the unique nature of experience. It’s more difficult to make an unfavourable comparison when there is nothing directly comparable. After all, each of our youthful summers is different (even if only a little).

I also think it’s hard to really compare our own experiences with those of other people. Comparing possessions, however, is generally easy.

3. Experiences have more social value
There are two reasons experiences have more social value than possessions. First, experiences tend to encourage social relationships and increased social relationships are good for our happiness. Second, it is more socially acceptable to discuss our experiences with others. People who bang on about their possessions are considered much less likeable than those who talk about their holiday adventures.

To read the full blog post, see this link //www.spring.org.uk/2008/01/experiences-beat-possessions-why.php

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