As soon as your paycheck hits your account, do you swipe your debit card through the checkout pad faster than your thumb swipes through Facebook, Buzzfeed or Tinder?
Do new clothes, designer sneakers, expensive meals, and cutting-edge technological gadgets really bring lasting happiness?
The experts say no – they don’t!
Researchers at San Francisco State University suggest that centering one’s life around material possessions is damaging to your well-being. They say, “This curvilinear relationship between income and well-being suggests that the materialistic desires often found in contemporary society may not contribute to individuals’ happiness. Indeed, a great amount of research has supported a negative relationship between materialistic desires and well-being.”
Participants in this study realized (after buying things they temporarily desired) they would rather have put their money toward experiences increased their happiness over a longer period of time.
If this is true, why do we buy things we don’t need? In a way, this consumer behavior isn’t our fault. Our impulses are predetermined by our caveman instincts which prioritize short-term gratification over long-term happiness. Our brains respond to our attainment of short-term desires by releasing a thrilling shot of dopamine.
However, this instant gratification doesn’t make you happy for long. In this era of convenience and accessibility, it’s crucial to remember that investing in life experiences brings you the most happiness over time.
Life is all about memories. Just think about it:
In 30 years, would you rather remember watching a sunset on a beach with new and interesting friends from around the world or having a new iPhone 6? Plus, which display actually broke 4 months later.
Break out of your shopping addiction and limit your unnecessary spending. Instead, put your money toward travel, experiences, and memories – this will pay off greatly in the long run!
Millennial Spending Habits
Millennials (also called “Generation Y”) are the generation born after “Generation X” in the 1980’s and early 90’s. One of the key characteristics of this generation is their attitude toward money. Millennials see their workplaces much differently than previous generations.
We Millennials are often called “lazy” or “egocentric” by our elders. However, we just have different values: we value time more than money. After growing up in families with overworked parents, we have created a new attitude toward work. Instead of working overtime to “keep up with the Joneses”, the millennial generation values flexible work schedules and good work/life balances.
It’s good that we value our private time, however, the media and technology we absorb (especially social media) constantly seduces us into purchasing material things that don’t make us happy for long.
Researchers at Cornell University have shown that Millennials are tempted social factors to purchase “trendy” items. This is why people line up to get the newest clothes and gadgets; they increase our social value for a short time. However, this doesn’t increase our overall happiness. Attaching your self-esteem to material objects is very unhealthy.
Gilovitch (the author of the Cornell study) says, “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.”
Gilovich’s findings are in the correlation with the Easterlin paradox, which says that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. “High incomes do correlate with happiness, but long term increased income doesn’t correlate with increased happiness.”
We easily adapt to certain things and lifestyles. “Lifestyle inflation” means that the more money we get, the more expensive lifestyles we live. Soon, we don’t take pleasure from the things we own, even if they initially made us happy. Over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they buy decreases; however, their satisfaction with the experiences they buy increases with time.
So, rather than buying fancy, overpriced objects, you’ll be happier spending money on experiences: attending art exhibits, participating in outdoor activities, learning new skills, or traveling the world. Make long-term investments in your individual happiness!
Spend less money on garbage that loses its value within a matter of weeks and more on things that nourish your mind and ensure unforgettable adventures. This will not only make you a more interesting and happier person – it will also spread positive change throughout your world.
So, how can you spend your money wisely? How do you switch your mindset from away from consumerist slavery to novelty? What can you do to ignore the advertising industry and make genuine decisions for your happiness?
Your money is precious. You’re trading your time (and your youth) to get it. Remember – it’s possible to buy almost anything you want, except your youth! You must value your time (and therefore, your money) wisely. So, how can you “experience” your money more?
1. Spend most of your money on activities that make you happy.
Dan Gilbert (a psychology professor at Harvard University) shows in this survey that people usually spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about things other than what they’re doing – and activity that doesn’t make them happy.
Dan says, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” The cognitive achievement of abstract thinking has a huge emotional cost.
When focusing on experience, whether it‘s attending a concert, traveling, or having dinner with friends, it’s easier to tame our minds and focus on presence. The people in Dan’s study were most happy when they were thinking about what they were doing at the moment. Dan and his colleagues found that the type of experience we choose isn’t what makes us happy; what’s most important is our satisfaction and focus.
2. Save money and increase your peace of mind.
Stress is our worst enemy. It kills happiness and has a tremendous impact on our health. Today, Americans save less money (as a percentage of income) than ever before. Meanwhile, their credit card debts, student loans, and mortgage responsibilities are rising.
Instead of feeling insecure and worry about your debts and loans, buy yourself some lasting happiness by paying them off. The next time you have some extra cash to splurge with, see how much you can put toward your debt.
3. Spend your money on things you used the most.
Your money represents your precious time; when you buy things, make sure you will be able to “experience” their value. Make a list of your favorite ways to spend time. For example, I value a great bed and mattress – it’s a special place for me. I love to sleep, meditate, work, watch movies—and even eat my breakfast—in bed. For me, spending my extra cash on a good mattress was an investment in happiness.
Think about it – where is your “happy place”? If you sit a lot of in front of the computer, maybe buying a new insanely comfortable desk chair would make you happy over the long-term.
4. Be generous to your loved ones.
Share your money with the people who are most important to you. Sharing is an investment in your long-lasting happiness. Don’t be greedy with the people you care about. Take your Dad for a trip somewhere he hasn’t been or take a flower to a friend who’s having a bad time. Is there anything more rewarding than lighting up the face of a loved one with a bit of goodwill—or even some cash?
5. Buy your time when you can.
If you can afford it, pay someone to do the things you don’t like (or aren’t very good at). Not only will this person benefit from the money you pay them, you will be able to save your time for experiencing the things you like the most. For example, do you hate some menial task in your work? Use a site like Fiver to hire someone for 5 dollars to take this task off your plate.
The same concept applies to riding home at night on the bus or train. Maybe the 30 extra minutes of sleep you would get by taking a taxi instead would brighten your day tomorrow. Maybe it’s worth paying someone to come and clean your home and avoid arguing with your girlfriend about who will clean the place.
Outsource whatever you can to give yourself peace of mind and comfort. You need the freedom to enjoy simple experiences. Sit down, read a book (or do whatever else makes you happy) and actually enjoy your life!