This article is exploring why you should fill your life with adventures not things. Experiences are said to be key in the pursuit of happiness. Whereas material things clutter up your home and leave your memory fast.
Happiness is an indicator of health and money can make you happier. But once you’ve met your basic needs that high you feel emotionally is limited. In striving for happiness we tend to want to buy a physical thing because it will last longer than an experience. But the assumption that it would therefore make us happier for longer is wrong. New objects are exciting at first, but then we adapt to them and they blend into our background.
Why do we keep making this mistake?
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When the buying starts
We are encouraged to buy things from a young age, well before we have any earning ability. For me, as an 80’s kid I remember a head bopper buried in everyones drawer. Look them up. Very flattering. That trend lasted a few months and most of us were grateful when the phase passed.
Next came along the jeans with the stripes down the outer leg. The big deal was whether you chose red or white. Another purchase in pursuit of happiness.
My first biggie, was sitting in my first new car. It was magic, thrilling. For a moment that heated seat made me feel as if my life was complete.
I still really like my material stuff. I consider them part of my identity. I do, however, except that they remain separate from me. Experiences and adventures make memories – and it is these we carry around as part of who we are.
When I first understood
I met my husband when I was 16. He took me on a date to, well no where really. He hadn’t properly planned it. But, as he drove me into London we spent the journey peering into the posh houses imagining the homes within. Eventually, we walked off the cold streets into a packed pub where we managed to bag ourselves a leather sofa – and the rest of the room disappeared. That was over 30 years ago, and he’s been taking me on adventures ever since.
I can’t remember the earrings I wore that night. I really don’t care what make the car was he drove. The intimacy of this experience is what stayed with me.
Since then as we went from dormouse poor (I borrowed my mums bikini for my honeymoon) to doing pretty well (no applause needed – especially if you’re British), most of our memories have been invested in adventures large and small.
Looking back, the best childhood memories were simple experiences like sitting on the fence that surrounded my nan’s caravan watching the horse or lying under her coffee table up on my elbows as the house was filled to the brim with family, and visiting my Aunty in Amsterdam (my first trip abroad).
As soon as our kids existed they became our sidekicks to our adventures. These days the tables are turning and we are beginning to become theirs!
It’s not about having money
If you follow this blog you’ll know that I’m very lucky to experience a lot of wonderful things. It’s not quite what it seems however. Air-miles and hotel points help tremendously.
The point here is that I’m talking about experiences of all kinds within your financial situation. Some of our most unforgettable moments haven’t cost a penny. Like when we walked the dogs in the snow and our Cocker gathered tennis balls of ice on her fur. She looked like we’d decorated her with baubles, but she was as happy as could be!
It’s about deciding when to buy the latest style of coat or a dinner with friends. Or choosing between getting another picture frame or preparing a surprise picnic by a lake.
Size doesn’t matter to happiness. You could buy a bag of sweets or an entire outfit, the result is similar. You could be thrilled by both and both could seem fairly meaningless a short while later.
A new outfit will thrill you the first few times you wear it, but a trip to the beach will probably stay in your mind for longer.
It is about being social
I’m a fairly isolated person. Blogging and vlogging involves a crazy amount of time behind a laptop screen. So, getting out into the world is both necessary and fulfilling. Taking the kids out for a meal or visiting a historic village is a destresser as well as a way to create lasting memories.
The people you share experiences or adventures with become part of that story. But even if they weren’t with you, you are more likely to bond over a shared love of a box set or an art exhibition than a pair of new shoes.
It’s about living in the moment
One of my daughters birthdays, my husband put up a tent in the garden and they stayed up all night pretending they were in the wilderness somewhere. She has never forgotten this. Ask her about the present she got that year and I don’t think she knows. My son’s go-cart birthdays are stuff of legends and the kid who broke their arm at the gymnastics party still gets a mention. But most of the presents are forgotten.
One does jump into my mind, however. It was a pair of ‘see in the dark’ glasses we all seriously bought into (in no small part to the very scientific box they came in). The experience of trying them for the first time is still so funny to us. They were basically a pair of plastic glasses with a mini torch attached either side. Worth. every. penny.
Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries
Often it’s the purchasing of something that gives the greatest satisfaction. Sometimes when it finally arrives, it’s a little bit ‘meh’. The best bit is often the anticipation and nostalgic longing.
When the purchase is experiential, however, not only do you get all that, but you then get to live in the moment, plus the high of reminisce for as long as you memory holds.
So, for example, waiting for a meal out with a group of friends feels very different than waiting for a pre-ordered i-pad to turn up. After a short while, your i-pad is no longer new but scratched and taken for granted.
Your mood will improve
Research tell us that waiting for a holiday makes us more cheerful than waiting for material goods.
Check the queues at Disney or to food trucks versus those on ‘black Friday’.
When things go wrong
Often, even a bad experience becomes better after time.
We were caught up in the recent BA, ‘Ooops, someone pulled the plug out’ debacle. It was pretty stressful as our much anticipated holiday in Tuscany slipped out our hands.
It wasn’t even just an ordinary holiday for us. This one was to celebrate my husbands 50th birthday and my daughters 25th. Even more heartbreaking a secret marriage proposal was planned.
With most of the group with their heads bent over their mobiles a solution was eventually sorted. It involved us flying to Dublin, without a place to stay (eventually we found a house far outside the city) and a flight a few hours later to Italy.
We ended up only losing one day and we’ve gained stories of heroics and hilarious dramas to us to dine out with for years! It turned out to be a great bonding experience for us all.
Alternatively, when something goes wrong with the i-pad or a heel comes off my shoe, I’m more likely to stress over the fixing of it or hurl it in the bin.
People appreciate your adventures more than your possessions
Somethings you buy are very connected to an experience: the wedding dress; the board game etc. These purchases are tied to a very special social interaction. It seems more acceptable to talk about these types of buys and people will be more inclined to talk to you about them.
However, generally people don’t like hearing about other peoples possessions very much. At least not as much as hearing about your food festival weekend.
With material possessions you pretty much know what you are going to get. But with an experience or adventure it could turn out a whole host of ways! While you are waiting you can imagine up all kinds of outcomes.
With material buys you get an instant gratification and then it’s pretty much down hill from there.
OK for this one it does benefit if you have a positive outlook!
Adventures are harder to compare
It’s actually more difficult to compare experiences than material goods.
‘Her bum bag has a lot more compartments than mine…’. People compare purchased goods because it’s easier to do so.
It’s not that we don’t feel some envy when you see another family in a luxury suite while your room faces a brick wall, but it is possible that the party is happening in that ‘lesser’ room. Besides, the view is always the same when you look up (out of the window, that is. It’s likely that suite has a chandelier).
In the end…
Money brings joy but only up to a point. So, try not to put so much value onto possessions when you are in the pursuit of happiness.
So fill your life with adventures not things because it’s all about the memories we carry with us, not the expensive accessories.
Let’s stay connected!!
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