For most of us, money is a limited resource. However, economists agree that the most important thing is not the amount we are paid, but what we do with it. And, in particular, what we spend it on.
It’s true that most of our income is used to cover basic expenses. After that, we manage to find the money to buy a new cell phone, or a television with the largest screen, or a pair of jeans on sale.
Buying things always excites us a little. The unfortunate thing is that this enthusiasm fades rapidly.
Interestingly, there is a branch of economics called “the economics of happiness”. Among other things, it measures the relation between income, expenses and how satisfied one feels with life.
They’ve found, based on ample evidence, that more money does not equal more happiness. So where is the key to happiness?
Money and things
Many people spend their extra money on things. They even make big sacrifices in order to get them. They cut back on basic expense or get into debt. Nowadays, this happens a lot with cell phones, no longer merely a communication tool but rather a status symbol.
There is fierce competition when it comes to our favorite things. Besides cell phones, this is also the case with other electronic devices. And clothes, too, of course. Cars are also a part of this logic.
And really, branding is all-important with these things. You don’t have a car, but a BMW. You don’t have a mobile phone, but an iPhone.
With most of these purchases, comparing ourselves with others is a huge influence. We choose a particular brand or a particular thing to be equal to or better than those around us.
These objects sometimes define our sense of belonging to a group. But, paradoxically, they also indicate a tension. Objects, especially if they are luxury items, seek to impose distance.
Money and experiences
Economists of happiness are convinced that spending money on experiences generates much more satisfaction than spending it on objects. They’ve studied it, they’ve measured it. And that is their conclusion.
Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University, has been studying the subject for several years. He found that people get used to objects with extreme ease.
Shortly after acquiring them, they begin to become routine, with little appeal. In other words, they get boring. Routine things don’t make us happy.
However, with experiences, the opposite happens. When they’re significant, they acquire value and this increases over time.
Also, experiences do unite people. Two people can have the same iPhone but not identify with each other in the slightest. On the other hand, two stamp-collectors will feel close.
If you go shopping with someone, you don’t bond with them like you do if you go do an activity together, or go on a trip. In this case, tension due to competition won’t be a result, but rather quite the opposite: understanding and solidarity.
Spend on life
We are our experiences. And the experiences that things give us are extremely limited. Objects don’t really have the potential to make us drunk with joy and a sense of living life to the full. Experiences, on the other hand, do.
Even many negative experiences, when processed, turn into stories, even funny ones. And positive ones are like true nourishment for our souls.
Years later we can still remember them and feel some of those wonderful feelings again. They don’t wear out over time.
Each experience is unique, unlike mass-produced objects. Even if we go go through something similar, it will never be the same. Hence its value.
There are wonderfully freeing conversations we’ll never forget. There are fantastic places that take us to the very limits of awe and wonder. The joy of a meal or time spent with friends is priceless.
If what we are looking for is to feel better and be happier, it would be good to rethink the way we use our resources. In particular, our money.
By thinking less about objects and more about experiences, we may just find the way to happiness.