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Less Is More: Why Experiences—Not Things—Hold the Key to Happiness

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Baby Boomers especially may remember a time when this wasn’t the case, but in today’s world, every generation, from Boomers to Millennials, now covets experiences over mere, material possessions. And here’s the best part: The latest scientific research suggests that we’re not wrong for it, as joyful life experiences really do elicit greater and more sustainable happiness than buying material goods.

So let’s explore what’s undoubtedly a landmark change in our society and culture, and perhaps more importantly, examine ways to unlock newfound happiness right now and throughout the year(s) ahead by making some amazing experiences become reality.

“WE ARE THE SUM TOTAL OF OUR EXPERIENCES”

For generations, really, humans were left to our own devices in wondering whether money could, in fact, buy happiness. And nothing against luxurious houses, exotic cars, designer clothing, fancy jewelry and the like, but today, advances in technology and research show that the joy we derive from material possessions is fleeting and short-lived, while experiences better define who we are.

The difference, says leading Cornell University researcher Dr. Thomas Gilovich, is adaptation. As humans, we (rather quickly) adapt to our lives with even the most coveted material goods in them, and just like that, the happiness we once felt because of them is at least partly lost.

And as a result, Gilovich suggests, our richest and most precious memories are consequences not of the material goods we possess, but of the experiences we’ve had.

TODAY, WE’RE LIVING IN AN “EXPERIENCE ECONOMY”

Our Amazon and online shopping habits notwithstanding, we’re actually living amidst an “experience economy” where nearly 75% of Americans—young and old, mind you—value experiences over things. Plenty of folks may not even realize it, but take a look at some of what’s all the rage in today’s society and we see that our lives have become a pursuit of happiness through individual experiences, which together define our overall lifestyle.

Is it all that surprising, then, that social events like escape rooms and axe throwing, craft brewery tours, international cooking classes, and truly immersive travel experiences are some of what we’re into? Factor in the explosion of freelance careers and it’s all the more proof that happiness today is way more about the experiences that make up our overall journey than it is about shiny baubles, fancy titles and accumulating the most “stuff.”         

SO WHAT IS IT THAT YOU MOST WANT TO SEE AND DO?

If experiences really do hold the keys to happiness, then it begs a rather simple question: What is it that you most want to see and do in your life right now? Perhaps it’s to experience the lights of Broadway or even have those bright lights shining on you. Maybe it’s to witness the beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon and America’s national parks. To see a game in one (or many) of today’s iconic baseball stadiums. Or maybe it’s something different and all your own. 

Certainly, it’s up to each individual, but the point remains the same: Answer the above question honestly and it may help illuminate a path toward more health and happiness in the year ahead.

For most experience seekers, it’s travel they crave. So for those who have always dreamed about going whale watching in the Pacific, seeing Europe, Asia or even Antarctica, maybe this is your time to stop saying “No” and start packing your bags instead.

And more than just taking a “bucket list” kind of trips, think about how best to experience life in and around your hometown. Start structuring facets of your life—from where you live and how you plan your social calendar—to provide regular exposure to more pleasing and memorable experiences—the kind that lets you live more like a tourist in your own town.

In all, do your part to experience life wherever you are each day, because today especially, you don’t have to have it all to be happy and live a lifestyle that’s rich and fulfilling!      

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