Hi there, I’m Paul Krismer your happiness expert. Do you ever walk into a shopping mall and just go: Wow look at all these amazing things I could be buying. Like a new watch, there’s some new clothes, maybe even I could get that new giant screen TV. Or what about a new car? Or blue pajamas? A new bike light! Lawn gnomes! New sunglasses! A vibrating extra fast toothbrush! There’s all kinds of things to buy! Everywhere you go you can just buy and buy and buy. But all this excitement about buying and it is exciting and fun at the moment does it really deeply make us happier? Does it last at all for any length of time? Are our lives better? For all of our shopping, all of our dreaming about getting stuff, well yeah you guessed it it doesn’t make us a whole lot happier.
Plain and simple it just doesn’t. So what then should we be spending their money on? So the basic Western culture dream that we’ve grown up with is this idea that every successive generation will be more prosperous than the previous generation. So we should be physically richer in our lives than our parents lives. And that was the basic promise and so that you know— my generation we could have two cars in the front of the house, we could have a big big house, we can have all kinds of luxury goods and vacations every year in the sun. And all that kind of stuff that people dream and want! That was the promise and success in life would be measured if we had those kinds of outcomes.
That was the dream but the reality is something a little bit different. The reality is that things have changed from what used to be a true promise that every generation in the last 200 years generally got richer than the previous generation. But it’s not so true anymore, three things have come to play. One, real growth in wages has been stagnant since the mid 1970s. Generations born after the 70s are not going to be richer than their parents generation. Sorry that’s just a fact. It seems to be playing out in the real world. Two. It turned out that all these things we know from research don’t make us as much happier. So what would be the point in wanting to be richer than mummy and daddy if in fact mommy and daddy used lifestyle doesn’t make people happy? And there’s some pretty clear evidence it doesn’t. And then thirdly— frankly this one’s maybe a bit out there but the world can’t sustain us all wanting more and more stuff in our lives relative to the previous generations. There’s got to be happier ways to spend our money. So economists and positive psychologists have looked deeply into this question of whether money and buying stuff can make us happy and the answers are very clear.
It makes some sense, the things that we bring into our lives they’re just inert masses. They sit around. They maybe make our egos feel better sometimes and sometimes they’re useful for sure. But a lot of the time they’re not changing the energetic dynamic of our lives. Things are just things. So instead what we need to be looking at, is investing in things that change our identity. Change the sense of who we are being in the world. Not what we’re having, not what we own but the sense of beingness that we bring into the world that when we are being the identity that we want to be. Then in fact we are happier. And when our identity is by design it’s based on our values. Then we can go about doing the things in the world that reinforce that identity. Reinforce those values and those things almost always come through experiences and not through buying of things.
So the research is pretty clear: happiness’s isn’t bought in things, but researchers then explored can happiness be bought in experiences? In fact it does and one of the good researchers is a guy named Thomas Gilovich and he says this: You can really like your material stuff, you could even think that part of your identity is connected to those things. But nonetheless the things remain separate from you. In contrast your experiences really are a part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences. When we deliberately invest in experiences we are expressing our values. We’re expressing a part of who we are, so if some people have a sense of adventure then they should go have adventurous experiences. And other people maybe have a sense of charity and they’re gonna go volunteer in a soup kitchen. Other people maybe have a sense of… performing arts.
If they loved the arts and they’re going to go and sing or go to the museum…. Do you get the idea? That when we live our values out in the real tangible world then were much happier. And so when we spend our money on those types of activities we tend to have more happiness in our lives. In addition, experiences most often, not all the time but most often are social experiences. We do these things with other people. We have other people who are at the soup kitchen, we have other people we do the adventures- we climb the mountain or we take a friend to the museum with us. And they become very rich social experiences and since we know the positive psychology shows very clearly that our social relationships are critical to our well-being, when we buy experiences we invest in our tribe. Beautiful. I remember some years ago I took my two sons on a five-week vacation in the south of Europe. Mostly France and Italy.
It was a beautiful thing. It cost a fortune and on my modest income it was it was a stretch. I could have bought a car for the amount of money we spent on this vacation but it was beautiful. We saw amazing things. We ate great food, we went to live performances and we were enriched by the shared experience. Meeting people and soaking in amazing culture and historic sites. And even though it cost a fortune, those memories are truly priceless. We had that experience together, we became bigger as a group and I will never ever forget those times in my life. And neither will my sons. Beautiful purchase of experiences. So there’s my little metaphor for you, to do the same in your lives.