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.
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.
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.