Why are experiences better than things?

“People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession…they think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they’ll be left with little compared to owning an item. But, in reality, we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession.” - Dr. Thomas Gilovich.

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'Retail therapy' - a misnomer or so it seems! There was a time when shopping was a chore; a part of the weekly routine to buy essentials and seen as firmly ensconced in the 'work' as opposed to the 'leisure' department. Over time however, and in no small part because of emotional response and consumer programming, shopping metamorphosed into a leisure activity. Make no mistake, it has always been a leisure activity for the higher income earners, but with the advent of shiny shopping centres and a veritable explosion in the variety of 'stuff' we can buy, it transcended the blurred lines of income brackets to become the new go to for "what are we doing this weekend?"

“Consumerism is based on the illusion that you can fill spiritual or emotional emptiness with physical products.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana

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This was brought home to me very recently with an unplanned stop at a large shiny mall near Bristol. With the advent of Covid and living in a quiet, rural part of West Wales, 'retail therapy' has over the past few years, more or less, drifted unceremoniously into a past life but, within two minutes of being in that sparkly, tempting environment, I was ready to throw all caution to the wind and break out the plastic from my purse!

Cost of living crisis aside, the place was packed! People were retail 'therapising' in spades!! Fortunately, my conscience kicked in and my fairly recently acquired inner dialogue of "do I really need that?" made its presence felt, so much so that I left with bank balance relatively unscathed.
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This brief but profound experience impressed on me the impact that buying 'stuff' has had on my life; the way that I, along with many others, can be so easily manipulated and shepherded into the "I need" or "I must have" mindset when the reality is quite the opposite; how we look for emotional gratification in acquiring material things. It reminded me of a Hidden Brain podcast that I listened to recently where social psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of Happy Money: the Science of Happier Spending,' spoke about 'the hedonic treadmill' where we think that we will find happiness in treating ourselves constantly with material possessions whereas, in reality we are not changing how happy we're feeling, even though it feels like we're doing things that should make us happier.

"Yeah, so the hedonic treadmill is such a sad phrase, right? It conveys this idea that we're sort of stuck. No matter how hard we try to get happier, we can't. We're kind of on this treadmill where we always end up kind of back where we started. So try to run faster, work harder to get happier, and it doesn't do any good." - Dr. Elizabeth Dunn

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Dr. Dunn and University Professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich have studied, in great depth, the idea that spending our money on experiences rather than things can make us happier. The anticipation of an experience can be much more happiness and satisfaction-inducing than waiting for a new gadget or item of clothing. In fact, experiences enhance social relations, relate more closely to our identity, tend to be evaluated more on their own terms, and elicit fewer social comparisons than material purchases according to Dr. Gilovich's research.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. 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.” - Dr. Thomas Gilovich

As it turns out, experiences matter more to us because they are inherently social. You often share experiences with friends or family, or you make new connections and friendships through taking part in an experience, thus making them far more valuable. The resulting storytelling and conversation is so much more meaningful and welcome than if you were to recount the purchase of your new car or a new sofa. People don't like hearing about others' possessions very much, but they do like to hear about the art class you attended, or the forest bathing experience you took part in. The experience makes not only you but your captive audience happier too!
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Additionally, the happiness you feel from an experience is much longer lasting: the anticipation, the taking part, the remembering, and the recounting span a potentially infinite timespan unlike a new possession which, although it brings with it a certain level of happiness, is more fleeting.

Even more happiness is to be gained by purchasing experiences for another person. Giving the gift of creativity, for example, is particularly beneficial. Not only are you giving somebody something that is proven to be good for their health and emotional wellbeing, you are benefitting yourself in the knowledge that you have brought them happiness. So, when that birthday, anniversary or Christmas comes around, buying someone you love an experience brings with it riches way beyond any that can be gained from gifting something material.
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As a society, we are collectively looking for happiness and perhaps, finally, we may be turning away from possessing more things and turning towards experiencing more things. 

“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." - Dr. Thomas Gilovich
CraftCourses has 6000+ experiences. Turn towards yours and choose one that will add to the sum total of you or of someone you love.

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