Buy experiences not things if you want to maximize your happiness ROI (Return on Investment).
Many of us have learned over the years that physical things do not make us happy. Sure, there’s the fleeting excitement of making a new purchase and playing with a shiny, new toy. But if you are looking for real, bone-deep happiness, then spending money on items is not the way to go.If you're looking for real, bone-deep happiness, then spending money on items is not the way to go. Click To Tweet
Does that mean that spending money does not bring happiness at all?
It turns out that it depends on what you purchase with your money. When given a choice of what to purchase, using your money towards an experience is better than spending your money on an item. Study author Ryan Howell, from San Francisco State University, first introduced this concept when he presented his findings at the 2009 annual meeting of Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Why Do Experiences Make us Happier than Things?
Howell found several reasons for why experiences make us happier than things, starting with “memory capital.” You might get bored with a new item after six months or so, but having an experience to remember and think about will bring repeated happiness over a lifetime. Experiences also make us feel alive by increasing our sense of “vitality, vigor, and sense of being connected with your social world.” Finally, experiences are less susceptible to social comparison than belongings (i.e. you may look at your neighbor’s new flat screen television with a green eye, but comparing your last canoe trip to your neighbor’s canoe trip is not as likely).
Here’s the Exciting Part: A High ROI
What excites my frugal heart about this psychologist’s findings is that the cost of the experience doesn’t matter in terms of the amount of happiness it will bring. So long as it is an experience, you can spend $0 or $3,000 and you should still gain the same amount of happiness. How great is that? This means that last Saturday when I learned how to bake my grandmother’s famous chocolate cake with her beside me, she and I reaped just as much happiness and memory capital as a couple who spent $50 going to dinner and a movie. Yet our checking accounts stayed intact!
Cheap or Free Experiences to Bring Happiness without Eroding Wealth
Here are a few ideas to start reaping some happiness without breaking the bank.
- Board Game Potlucks: Once every other month or so I go to a friend’s house for her board game potlucks. These are so much fun! I get to compete against others, learn a new game, socialize, and then we all bring ingredients or dishes to help with a meal afterwards. The cost is very low, and the social and entertainment value is very high!
- Wine Tasting: Wine tastings typically cost $0-$10. There are lots of places around Houston and outside of Houston to do this, and you can do some research to find wineries and vineyards near your own town. Get a group of friends together or your significant other and experience either local or global wines. If one wine tasting place is not enough, then map out a few to travel to (ensuring you have a designated driver).
- Meet Up for Coffee: In the last several months I have met up with two different friends at a coffee shop. For less than $5 we spent a few hours chatting, giggling, and having a great time just catching up with each other.
Howell states that, “surprisingly little is known about the processes by which one may resist urges to buy material items and invest in experiential consumption.” While he and his team continue to figure that out, I hope you will implement his current findings into your life by choosing to spend small amounts of money on experiences rather than on things. Here’s to greater ROIs (return on investments) for all of us!