It was December 2013 and I was standing on the terrace at Old Trafford with a Ronaldo-esque pose, my hands aloft and a beaming smile across my face. This was really the theater were dreams did come true.
As a young 10 year old boy watching my favorite team come back from a goal down with few minutes to spare and winning the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich in such dramatic fashion. Now standing on the tuff of the same team I have spent almost 2 decades supporting and it was surreal and one of those pinch-yourself moments. One that would surely go down as one of my greatest ever memories (asides my future wedding day and the birth of my future children).
Looking back at my foremost experiences such as touring Old Trafford in Manchester and watching my younger siblings graduate from the University. All hold greater relevance to any physical thing I have and will ever acquire.
People long to acquire whereas they should long to experience.
Using a 20-year study conducted by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University as an anchor to address this belief system.
He pointed out that experiences become a part of our identity. We are not our possessions, but we are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. Buying an Apple Watch isn’t going to change who you are; taking a break from work to go on holiday to The Bahamas most certainly will.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
We don’t compare experiences in the same way that we compare things. When people are asked if they’d rather have a high salary that was lower than that of their peers or a low salary that was higher than that of their peers, a lot of them aren’t sure. But when they are asked the same question about the length of a vacation, most people choose a longer vacation, even though it is shorter than that of their peers. It’s hard to quantify the relative value of any two experiences, which makes them that much more enjoyable.
We get used to new possessions. What once seemed novel and exciting quickly becomes the norm. The new phone you were dieing to get last year suddenly becomes old this year and you aspire to get a new phone. We keep raising tpurchases lead to new expectations. As soon as we get used to a new possession, we look for an even better one.
Possessions by their nature foster comparisons. We buy a new car and are thrilled with it until a friend buys a better one—and there’s always someone with a better one.
The paradox of possessions is that we assume that the happiness we get from buying something will last as long as the thing itself. It seems intuitive that investing in something we can see, hear, and touch on a permanent basis delivers the best value. But it’s wrong.
The temporary happiness achieved by buying things only provides “puddles of pleasure.” In other words, that kind of happiness evaporates quickly and leaves us wanting more. Things may last longer than experiences, but the memories that linger are what matter most.
In this decade, the next and even the ones coming up, my first visit to Old Trafford (Manchester United’s football stadium) would forever remain a memory I would cherish. In the same vein, all the phones I have had, shoes, car or house would pale in comparison to that one experience.
Strive to have fun not to have shoes. Work to rest not to buy. Love to build not to get.