You know what they say: "Money can't buy happiness..."
"... but it sure helps!"
The popular saying is usually used when someone with tons of money splurges on gadgets and items that they think will make their lives better.
As residents of modern-day life as we know it, we have become somewhat obsessed with all of the technological developments that now play a central role in our everyday. It is only normal then that we have become more materialistic in our attempts at happiness as well.
Now don't get me wrong:
I love the smell of a new gadget as much as anyone else.
BUT I have come to realize that while the immediate impact of those things may be relatively high, they do come with greatly diminishing returns over the long term. Money doesn't buy happiness when spent on new objects.
In plain English:
Material possessions won't make you happy. Experiences and their memories will.
So start spending your money on travel.
If you want to be happy, that is.
Money spent on things buys you happiness for a short time only
Don't take my word for it, scientists say it too!
Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, who has researched the effect of money over happiness for more than two decades comments: "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."
Why is that?
When you get, say, a new phone, you're super happy at the beginning. You get crazy about how fast it is, how beautiful the pictures you take with is are, how elegant the design is.
How long does that last? A week, tops?
The more you use it, the most accustomed you get to what originally seemed amazing. What you once thought (a week ago) were beautiful pictures, you now consider to be normal. You're not as excited about the elegant curves of your phone either, you see it all the time.
Money spent on things will bring you happiness for but a brief moment. You will always need to raise the bar in order to be happy with things again (and therefore spend always more money).
Money buys happiness when it is spent on experiences
Dr. Thomas Gilovich recommends spending your money on experiences rather than a new laptop if you seeking happiness.
Here's the thing:
When you're facing a choice between buying a new laptop or going on a one-week holidays, you're thinking: "That trip will last only one week, after that, I won't have anything left. If I buy that laptop, I'll have it for a few years!"
As Gilovich puts it, "people think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they'll be left with little compared to owning an item".
But when we think like that, we miss one critical aspect of the purchase:
You'll remember your experience long after you've lived it. You'll still have the memories! As the graph from the Wall Street Journal created with data from the Journal of Positive Psychology illustrates, over time, you feel that your money was well spent when you purchased an experience rather than an object.
Even negative experiences can have a positive effect
In his study, Dr. Gilovich also found that even poor experiences can have a positive long-term effect when looking back on them. Similarly, I think those who keep traveling close to their heart can tell you it’s about tackling the unknown and being able to tell the story of your thrilling adventures, even the ones that didn't seem as good at the time.
I've had many bad experiences during my trips. In Inner Mongolia, I got scammed by a guy who told me the bus going I wanted had been canceled, but that he could take me there, wait for me and drive me back after. After I finished the visit, there was a bus waiting at the exit. I told the guy that I would pay him for driving me here but I would take the bus back, because he was asking for way more money. In the end I had to pay the full price because other scammers like him wouldn't let me take the bus until I had paid the full price. They were getting violent, even though their scam was obvious. It was a terrible experience. But now, it makes up for a great story when I tell people about my trips.
In Zanzibar, the Airbnb we booked for New Year's Eve didn't exist any more: the place was abandoned. We didn't have a place to stay and at this time of year, every hotel was packed. We spent half a day looking for a place to stay, with our luggages (never go on this kind of trip with a suitcase). Eventually, Airbnb refunded our money and it turned out alright. Another fun story to tell.
That's the thing:
You can tell story about your experiences, but not about your possessions. What do you think people will enjoy more? That I tell them about my two bad experiences or that my new laptop can turn into a tablet?
We're social animals! Not only will people related to your social experiences, you will find happiness in them. The only social behavior created by the purchase of a new thing is comparison: we compare what we have with what our friends and neighbors have. But nothing good comes of it: it creates only the opposite of happiness.
Final words on Why you should spend money on travel to buy happiness
I already wrote about the benefits of traveling and strongly believe in them.
Traveling broadens the mind and carries a value that transcends beyond the material. The benefits of your investment are incremental and, unlike that new TV you desire so badly, will not depreciate but only get better as time goes on and the memories you built become dearer.
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