For many years the advertising slogan: ‘There are some things money can’t buy; for everything else, there’s Mastercard’ has delivered the goods for the financial services corporation, but it has also delivered a message about the value of experiences and precious memories.
In an often volatile, uncertain and unpredictable world, feel-good experiences provide a necessary and hugely powerful tonic. People need positive emotions and memories to hold on to. They need them for motivation, for upliftment, for hope.
In fact, researchers say that there is a relationship between how we spend money and happiness.
A case study published in the May 2020 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that people derive greater satisfaction from experiential purchases such as travel, entertainment, learning a new skill and outdoor activities than they do from material purchases such as clothing, gadgets and jewellery.
The authors of the study, Kumar, Killingsworth and Gilovich, concluded that spending money on ‘doing’ promoted more moment-to-moment happiness than spending money on ‘having’ material possessions and that experiences appeared to be a more promising route to enhancing well-being than possessions, irrespective of when happiness was measured.
So what does this all actually mean?
Why experiences are so valuable to our wellbeing
Yes, we get excited when we buy stuff. There’s a thrill to having something new – especially if we’ve coveted it or saved up for it. And there are certainly material things that give us pleasure for years – a car, a music system, furniture, even things like a new pair of shoes or an item of clothing.
That said, retail therapy is generally not sustainable. Most often, the happiness we feel from buying something is fairly short-lived. But when we participate in an experience either on our own or with others, our feelings of satisfaction can be longer and stronger.
An experience becomes part of who we are. It can strengthen the relationships we have with others. The experience can connect us to others and the shared memories can be discussed and the stories regaled long after the actual experience is over.
The pursuit of happiness
At face value, it may seem logical to assume that since a physical object lasts longer than a one-off experience, it should make us happier for longer. However, the reality is that happiness and satisfaction from material purchases lessens as time passes and we retain – and often deepen – the positive feelings from the experiences we’ve had.
‘Doing’ is far more powerful than ‘having’. Even if we think our material purchases define our identity in some way, they’ll always be separate to us. On the other hand, an experience automatically becomes part of who we are.
So, if we seek to be happy – and happiness looks and feels different for everyone – the message from the experts is to spend our money on experiences, not material things.
What type of experiences should we be spending money on?
There’s no definitive list of ‘must-do’ experiences but certainly travel, holidays, entertainment, outdoor activities, meals out, doing a course and learning a new skill are among the top picks.
Let’s take skydiving for example. It’s not a cheap thrill, but everyone who’s parachuted from a plane says it was the most exhilarating experience of their life. It’s one of those ‘no-regrets’ experience and the positives that come from it are truly priceless.
The heady anticipation of the jump, the dizzying excitement of freefall, the profound peace when floating earthwards, the sheer joy of landing and the overwhelming sense of achievement when you land are impossible to describe in words, but the happiness is real and enduring. For most people, the ability to conquer their fears, try something new and succeed gives their self-confidence and their happiness a supercharged boost. For them, spending money on skydiving was worth every penny.
Activate don’t accumulate
Covid-19 changed the world in many ways and in many ways, it changed our outlook too. Life as we know it can shift in an instant, so let’s take our cue from the experts and consider spending our dollars on desirable experiences rather than material possessions.
Amy Stutt is co-owner and sales manager of award-winning adventure tourism company, Skydive Geronimo WA.
She has a wealth of experience in the travel and tourism industry as well as several academic and professional qualifications, including an MBA from Murdoch University. Amy is a respected board member of Destination Perth and chair of its Governance, Risk and Audit Committee. She is also an active member of Women in Tourism and Hospitality (WITH) and the Rottnest Chamber of Commerce.
Since jointly establishing Skydive Geronimo WA in 2010, Amy and her husband Glenn have grown the business into an award-winning operation with a reputation for professionalism, integrity and innovation. As a result of her outstanding stewardship, Skydive Geronimo has become widely acknowledged as the premier tandem skydiving experience in Australia and has been a significant contributor to Rottnest Island’s global status as a ‘must visit’ destination.