The myths behind experiences vs. things

If you read about experience vs. things, most articles will tell you that you should be spending your money on experiences, not things. This is shown to be more beneficial because experiences can create long term happiness.  They create memories and can add to your relationships.  Things do nothing but bring temporary pleasure, drain your finances, and clutter up your space. And yes, this is most probably the case, apart from when it’s not.  Let’s look at each argument for spending your hard-earned cash on experiences instead of things. But first of all, let me tell you about Hedonic adaption.

Hedonic adaption, also known as the Hedonic treadmill, is a theory that says that whatever good or bad experiences that happen to you, you will return to the same level of happiness. So, if I get a new job and it’s incredible, and I’m happy and excited, at some point it becomes routine.  It becomes day to day as my old tedious job was that didn’t excite me. It also works in terms of income too.  You feel you don’t have enough money, so you manage to negotiate a pay rise.  You have loads of extra cash, and this is great, but somehow this extra money gets allocated to what becomes everyday spend.  Before you know if you’re back in the same position as feeling that you don’t have enough money.

This can apply to anything, experiences, and things. So as you read on about the arguments for buying experiences over things keep this in mind.



Buying things only gives short term happiness.  You see something you want; you buy it, you feel happy, and then the item gets put away and forgotten about no longer bringing any happiness.  Experiences give long-term happiness as the build-up to the experience is exciting, the experience may last more than a few hours, and then the memories of the experience bring joy as we recall how amazing it was.

But what about once in a lifetime experience?  How long can the memories last and bring happiness?  And the experiences that we consume regularly don’t they become part of everyday life?  Hedonic adaption rears its head.


Relationships and social connections

Experiences can bring you together with other people and create social connections that bring happiness. Possessions that you buy can’t do this and don’t create stories that you can share and relive a long time afterward.  But can the buying of things be the experience to share with someone else?  Every time you look at the object you bought, as long as it isn’t shoved in a cupboard, this can bring back memories that make you happy as you remember the great time you had with your friends buying it.

And to apply hedonistic adaption, do these memories become part of everyday life however they are recalled?


Create better stories and connections

Experiences become part of who you are, as the memories you have and the stories you share about the experiences are part of you.  A thing that you have bought can’t be part of you in the same way.  This allows you to create a connection with people through the stories of your experiences.

Unless you have many experiences that you can regale stories from, this can become repetitive.  Remember the character Michelle Flaherty in American Pie? “This one time at band camp…”

You don’t want to become THAT person. And not to push the hedonistic adaption point here but either those stories become part of everyday life and lose their meaning, or you have so many experiences they become the norm.


Unique and distinctive

Possessions are not unique to you. There will be lots of other people that have the same possessions.  Unless they’re one of a kind unique items that you’ve paid an arm and a leg for, but I digress.  Experiences will always be unique to each of us as you all experience life from your own viewpoint. Thus experiences can define who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to be seen.

I’m not sure how this is any different to keeping up with the Jones’ and buying certain items so you can be seen in a way that you want to be seen?  Am I missing something here?

And again if you want experiences to define who you are, then you need to have quite a few of them which brings hedonistic adaption back into play.



Experiences can help you learn.  They can give you an understanding of a topic that things, such as a book, can’t.  But is this really the case?  It depends on the book and how you, as an individual, learn best.  If you’re a visual, aural, or physical learner, then experiences will be better for your learning.  But what if you’re a verbal or solitary learner?


So, when you think about experiences vs. things and what is better to spend your money on, one is not necessarily better than the other.  So there you have a dilemma. What should you spend your money on that will have more meaning? There is a solution.  Neither.

Either way, you are still spending your hard-earned cash when it could be working for you in another way.  You don’t need a thing or an experience to define who you are, to make you happy, or to allow you to make social connections or sustain relationships.

As Marcus Aurelius said,

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

We need to find meaning in the things we do daily.  It is the meaning that will allow us to be content and happy.

And as for experiences vs. things, it is still spending vs. spending.  Choose neither and find contentment in what you have already.


Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

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