Finding happiness

What makes you  happy? Buying a new pair of shoes? Going to a restaurant? Walking the dog? Spending the day with friends?

And then how long does that happiness last? Will the shoes bring you happiness for longer than the transient experience of time spent with friends? Well apparently not. According to recent research (Gilovich & Kumar, 2015), the problem with physical objects is that you get used to them. After a while, your shoes become commonplace (however expensive they were) so you don’t continue to derive happiness from them and you have to go out and buy more stuff to top up your happiness. Of course if you didn’t own a pair of shoes in the first place, being able to buy some will increase your happiness, but once your needs are fulfilled the situation changes.

Experiences make you happy

It’s what you do not what you own

A day spent with friends is rather different – although you don’t end up with a physical object at the end of it, you do end up being a different person – a person with memories, shared experiences and stories to tell. Because we are the sum of all our experiences, happy days add to us, to our whole being. And, interestingly, the actual experience does not necessarily have to have been good for it to add to our happiness in the log run. Shared adversity, in retrospect, can be seen in a very positive light and can bring you so much closer to the people with whom you experienced it. One of my most stressful holidays is now regarded with great affection by those of us who were there – it makes us laugh to talk about some of the situations we found ourselves in, we enjoy reminiscing, looking at the photographs and laughing again at some of the jokes we shared. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but overall, it has turned out to be an experience that makes me happy.

So, next time you receive a bonus from work or have a little bit of money that you want to use for a treat, go and do something that will create memories… they will be with you and a part of you and make you smile long after your Jimmy Choos have been relegated to the back of the cupboard.

How does this sextant work?

Shared experiences make us who we are

Gilovich, T., & Kumar, A. (2015). We’ll always have Paris: The Hedonic Payoff from Experiential and Material Investments. In M.P. Zanna and J.M. Olson (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 51, (pps. 147-187), AESP, UK: Academic Press.

Leave a comment


  1. It’s what you do and who you do it with, not what you own and who you bought it off!

  2. So true. Just returned from a lovely day out with the Mister!

  3. I’d rather spend my money on someone else anyway, I get the pleasure of seeing if they like it then.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  4. I’m always happy when I see science is catching up with spiritual values and common sense 🙂 I have dined out for years on my most stressful and scary travel stories and there must still be a few folks who haven’t heard them yet.

  5. Lovely photo, Ms Snail, that’s another memory successfully captured. Does spending far too much money on plants, books and quilting material count…? Only I don’t have much of a yen for shoes, clothes, handbags and foreign holidays, but I do like to enrich my mind and my environment, and growing and making things is very good for your mental health…

  6. Thank goodness we are penniless hippie students Ms Snail and the moth eaten sock under the bed crawled away long ago to starve. We find our happiness in so many things but very few of them are material, and when they are, it is their intrinsic value that matters. For instance, I have my grandmothers gardening book. Her garden was her passion. My mum owned it prior to passing away and now it’s mine. The value is in the memories, the little dried leaves and flowers tucked between the pages, the written additions in the margins and the history that stains the pages as much as the soil from where gran lived. I have a tiny tea spoon that I inherited when dad died in among the “stuff” that comes with a houseful of a life lived. Its value is more to do with the thousands of pots of tea that have been brewed from it’s simple little clock-face and a whole lot less to do with its monetary value. I am often thankful that we don’t have a lot of money because the need to reclaim happiness from material possessions isn’t an option for us as a rule ;). If I ever did amass a stash of cash it has “wind turbine” already written on it so I doubt Mr Choo will ever get his leathery hands on it in the first place 😉

    • They sound like wonderful treasures. I’m currently getting a lot of joy out of Mrs P’s grow where you are planted’ picture and knowing that her dragon is looking out for her – just like yours.
      We are all so lucky to have safe homes and supportive friends… after that all the other stuff is a bonus.

  7. Tom Stoppard says in one of his plays “Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.” I’ve always loved that. The only materialistic thing that belies my general agreement with you and all the comments is the fact that after more than 12 years, I’m still getting into my car, sitting down and turning the key and thinking “this is my car! Wow.” Lest you think I have a Delorean, it’s a Volvo S40 and after 12 years, still looks like new and feels unbelievably luxurious. You’ve no idea what I drove before…

    • I LOVE that quote! Happiness is definitely connected with balance for me.

    • I think of things like your car as ‘treasures’. There are bound to be physical objects that give us great joy over years, but they usually weren’t bought for instant gratification… I have some clothes that I love so much I have pretty much destroyed them. And the teddy I got when I was a baby has had no fur for as long as I can remember because I loved it off him! Long my your much loved car bring you joy ❤

      • Oh yes, the treasures! I have a scarf I was given in Peru that feels like wrapping myself in the warm embrace of much-missed friends. It means far more to me than many more expensive things.

        One of the struggles with returning to study in a new town is the lack of time and people to share experiences with. I need to change that before all my Melbourne memories are of stress, isolation and endless academic reading…

  8. Meeting up with Mrs Snail during a magical stay with our mutual friend is definitely up there in my happy memory bank – still feel the warmth of the sun, the company and the pink!

  9. Amen on all of this! I totally embrace what you’ve written–and it’s good to be reminded of it!

  10. Great reminder! My husband and I have stopped giving birthday gifts to each other, and instead, do something together. I’d rather have those experiences than any “thing” wrapped in pretty paper.

    • We only give presents when we see something we think the recipient would really like – this means my friends and relatives get gifts completely randomly. They have finally got used to this and now enjoy the irregular unexpected packages from us.

  11. lovely. never been much of a material girl but seemed to have prospered anyway. ❤
    Thank you universe. ❤

  12. What a lovely post that has evoked such splendid conversation. You hit the important part of happiness. The Contented Crafter had a great point to make and narf77 added even more. Happiness has never been about things. But more about how you perceive how life is going in relation to where you want it to be. Stuck in a bad marriage was not a happy experience, but digging my way out was. Buying a home for myself was a scary experience that has brought a number of emotions but through them all, I got to choose happiness. A brief moment will bring an anxiety or fear but the overall look at things tells me my life has been full, good and predominantly happy. You have given me much to think on this weekend. Hope yours is filled with happiness.

  13. What great advice, I shall get on the phone this afternoon and make arrangements that I have not been making a priority.


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