Investing in Experiences: Why They're Better Than "Things"

It would seem logical to assume that because a physical “thing” will last longer, it will make you happier for a  greater period of time than a one-off experience like a yoga retreat, right? Well, according to recent research, that assumption is completely bogus. "One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation," says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. "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."

Gilovich's findings are the result of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only within the limits of adaptation. How adaptation affects happiness was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases. Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about equal. But over time, the joy people derived from the things they bought declined, whereas their satisfaction with the experiences they spent money on went up.

It's odd that something you can keep and use for a while doesn't make you as happy as long as a one-time experience. Paradoxically, the very fact that a material thing is ever present works against its lasting value. It fades into the background and becomes normal, and while normal things may remain useful, they are no longer exciting and happiness diminishes. Contrarily, our experiences live within us and become an integral part of our identity. For instance, an experience that might have been scary when it happened can become a funny story to tell later on, or it may become an invaluable “lesson learned” which shaped who you are today.  Plus, shared or even common experiences connect us more deeply to one-another, for sure (as opposed to “shared consumption”).  You're much more likely to bond with someone you took a yoga retreat with than someone who has the same phone as you.

In the words of Gilovich, "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." So rather than buying the latest “thing,” invest in the experiences which excite and inspire you; connect you to others and nature; move you into action and personal truth. Yoga is the path and practice of deepening your conscious connection to the experience at hand. Yoga quiets the stressful thoughts and awakens the body, so that your encounters and adventures are enriched by heart-felt awareness and presence of mind. If happiness is correlated with your ability to relish your moment to moment experiences,  why not excite these experiences to ones that are beyond the ordinary and mundane? A yoga retreat is the perfect opportunity to infuse an outward journey with the inward one, and to go wild in a way that awakens you and shapes you in more ways than one!

Photos courtesy of Selva Armonia and Maderas Village, our hosts for our Yoga Caravan trips.