What Makes You Happier — Experiences or Things?

Posted on August 19, 2015 by

A warm welcome to our new regular contributor, Kay Rodriguez! Kay is a young globetrotter who’s actually traveled to 21 countries on 4 continents, while pursuing a college degree. She chronicles her adventures on The Kay Days. Kay be writing regularly for WildJunket, sharing travel tips and stories to inspire the young at heart.


Throughout my college years, I spent the majority of my time slaving over textbooks while working three jobs on the side to save as much money as possible. Sometimes I’d feel a little bit left out when my friends splurged on new clothes and fancy dinners or nights out.

When I’d finally pocketed a few hundred dollars over the course of several months, I decided to forego these fancy things in favor of much more valuable purchases – plane tickets, hostel stays, dive certifications, and more.

Often it felt like I was the only person I knew who chose to spend most of their money on going places, rather than buying new things. Faced with decisions to go out and enjoy happy hour or stay in and save a few bucks, my mind would play back scenes from past travels and I instantly knew which was the right choice.

Over time my frugal habits developed into a lifestyle that eventually helped me save thousands of dollars for travel around the world. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier about my decision to spend money solely on trips to faraway places.

Experiences make us happier

Science Proves that Experiences Make Us Happier

It’s hard to quantify the value of travel, whereas we can easily see the monetary worth of that $100 pair of shoes or a new $400 Xbox. For me, I love staying up-to-date in the latest computer and photographic technologies, and these products sadly come with a hefty price tag.

In today’s mega-connected society, it’s easy to get blind-sighted by current trends, new gadgets, and dressing to impress. With all of those distractions, plus heightened levels of commercialism, it can be difficult to say no to spending money on things.

Scientific studies, however, have shown that our initial enthusiasm for things doesn’t match long-term returns on investments. According to a handful of studies, the intrinsic value of experiences can work wonders on our overall happiness and security.

A psychological research from Cornell University in New York has confirmed that experiences last a lifetime, while things only provide temporary pleasure and are quickly forgotten.

As quoted from this article on Fast Company,

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “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.”

Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “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.”

Another study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology shows people who made expensive purchases on products rather than experiential investments often devalued a new item’s worth directly after buying it.

Quoting Huffington Post,

Researchers from the San Francisco State University surveyed participants before and after they bought something. Before making the purchase, the participants said that they were aware that a life experience would bring them more happiness, but it would make more sense financially to buy the material item.

But their opinions changed after making the purchase. The participants said that not only would happiness be greater with a life experience, but that the experience was also a better value than the material item.

As aptly quoted in an Elite Daily article on the topic,

At the end of your life, are you going to be reminiscing about the fact that you had an iPhone 6 Plus while everyone else was still using the 5, or are you going to recall golden memories you shared with the people who shaped who you’ve become?


What is Your Choice: Experiences or Things?

For me, the choice between buying stuff and experiences has always been an easy one. Whenever I’m tempted to buy an expensive new item of clothing, I think about what that money could do for me if I were traveling.

How many bowls of pho could I buy? How many times could I go scuba diving? Where else can I trvel in South America if I don’t buy this expensive bag? What beautiful places could I be photographing, instead of buying this item?

Once I think through those questions, I realize that there’s really no physical item in the world that could make me happier than travel does.

What makes you happier – things or travel? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About Kay Rodriguez

Kay Rodriguez is the editor-in-chief of The Kay Days, a travel blog focusing on immersive travel for young people. She recently graduated university and is now working and traveling full-time. She writes to compel and inspire other young travelers to get out there and see the world.

One Response to “What Makes You Happier — Experiences or Things?”

  1. De'Jav Speller October 7, 2015 8:30 pm #

    Well written piece that gets you thinking. I think my happiness definitely comes from experiences. I’ve always been the frugal person but loves to have a good time when needed with friends and the majority goes to travel.

Leave a Reply


Wildlife Photography ebook|Sign for our monthly newsletter to download for free!