“Life is all about having a good time.” – Miley Cyrus
You may think that when it comes to buying someone a gift, a material possession such as a new watch or a tablet, that can last a long time, would bring more happiness than an experience such as a meal in a restaurant or a thrilling sky dive would.
There is growing evidence that shows people gain more pleasure in the long-term from experiences than from material goods. And not only that, “experience purchases” can be money better spent due to the anticipation of an experience being far sweeter than that of physical possession.
1. Experiences are open to positive reinterpretation
Let’s say that you plan to spend the weekend at the beach with some friends. Unfortunately, the rain poured the whole day so instead of lounging on the beach or swimming in the sea, you’re forced to stay in your camper-van playing card games. A pretty miserable weekend, right? But when reflecting on it a week later, a month, or years hence, it will be remembered as being more fun than it was at the time. Incidental problems with the experience are smoothed over and erased by memory – you recall only the laughs you had playing games, telling stories, and not the boredom or cramped conditions. It’s character building.
2. Experiences are less prone to negative comparisons
Even if what you do turns out to be disappointing, such as flat conversation over what was meant to be a special dinner, you’re more likely to do it again, rather than less, perhaps because experiences are seen as unique every time. The opposite is true with material possessions; if you buy a fast car but afterward felt uncomfortable driving it, then you probably wouldn’t buy another.
They are enjoyed by familiar people, as well as new ones. It is also more fun to recount memories later on, even with individuals who did not share the same experience.
The Happiness Economics
The Easterlin paradox tells us that while money can buy happiness–a raise in salary or a Christmas bonus – these only extend up to a point. While material and experiential purchases may satisfy us equally to start with, over time the experience is what we will feel the best about. Even when we buy something incredible, like a new home theater system, that sensation of happiness is only fleeting because we adapt to it quickly as we age.
In fact, research indicates that those most likely to endorse the benefits of experiential spending are people under the age of 55, couples, and people living in urban environments. So if you have a friend or family member that falls into one or more of those categories, and you want to know what to get them for their next birthday, this should help!
There is an additional dynamic to this theory…
Some experts believe that experiences actually become part of our identities and personalities: they shape who we are. (Can a new car do this?) Every time we reminisce over an experience, or relate it to someone else, it changes slightly in our memories. It is a constantly evolving gift with an endless capacity to amuse, inform, or comfort.
A Personal Experience
Before finishing, I’d like to pass on some anecdotal evidence.
A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday in Austin, Texas, with my wife and young son. Texas, as you may know, are famous for their barbecue food. One restaurant in particular, “Franklin,” has a reputation that has spread far beyond the United States. It operates on two very simple principles:
1. First come, first served;
2. Good food is worth waiting for
What that means is when you visit Franklin you can expect to queue for a very long time. We arrived at 10:30 am and finally received our order of brisket, sausage and potato salad at 2:30 pm. We waited for four hours, in the midday sun, for our food. Were we disappointed? Not one bit. In fact, apart from the meal (which was, of course, excellent), this was pretty much the most memorable and fun experience of our holiday.
You see, while we were in the queue we met a bunch of new people, ahead of us and behind us. We got talking, and became friends quickly, even sharing lunch with a couple of them. While we waited, we drank beer, played games with our son, and enjoyed the intoxicating aromas that floated out of the restaurant whenever the door was opened.
We recalled that visiting Franklin has been one of our ambitions for months before we left for our holiday, and that people have in the past waited up to 8 hours for their food, often joining the queue at 4 am; so our wait was small in comparison. Also, despite the heat and the lack of entertainment, our 3-year old son behaved like a real trooper – no complaints, no crying; just laughs and occasional mentions that his tummy was rumbling.
I honestly believe that even if the food had been not especially good, we would still have had a very good time. Because the anticipation and the memories are what count, not the momentary taste of barbecue or the satisfied feeling in our stomachs that evening.
We are nothing more than the sum of our memories and experiences” –Michael Scott, The Sorceress
Experiences are what make us who we are; it stays with us for the rest of our lives. They can’t be lost or stolen, or sold or re-gifted.
You can buy an experience, but you can never put a real price to it.
About the Writer
CEO Linas Ceikus is a serial entrepreneur with an impressive 8-year experience in the Experience Gift industry operating in eight countries (including UK, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, and Poland.) Half a million experiences have been sold in local markets. More than a career man, he is a traveler and an adventurer.
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