The Problem with Stuff
As Americans, we like our stuff. We like gadgets, gizmos, trinkets, toys, jewelry, and so on. Here is something that you might already know. Acquiring more stuff doesn’t really make us happy. We might get a little burst of excitement when we see the new “thing,” but that feeling doesn’t last long. If it did, we wouldn’t need to buy more stuff!
It is a process called hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. We are adaptive creatures by nature. So whatever we buy or acquire, we tend to get used to it over time. So, the happiness bump that it gave us initially fades. Then we go back to our default level of happiness.
Learning from Our Own Experiences
There is a lot of research on the idea of the hedonic treadmill. But we probably don’t even need to read the research to know the truth of this. We can just reflect on our own experiences. Think of the latest smartphone that you bought (or were gifted). How long did the excitement over the new phone last? A few days? Perhaps a week at most? If you have gotten a new car, how long did the happiness last from getting it? It doesn’t even matter whether it was a luxury car. We will adapt to getting a BMW or a used Honda Civic. When we reflect on our experiences, we can see that our happiness from acquiring things doesn’t last long.
Giving the Gift of Experiences
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever buy stuff, of course! Some things we need and make good use out of. For instance, if your partner loves to cook, perhaps a really good set of knives or cooking utensils would be appreciated for a long time to come. But there is much research that money is better spent when purchasing experiences over things. So, you might consider purchasing tickets to a concert, play, musical, sporting event, or some other special event. Although the experience is temporary – maybe it only lasts a few hours, it can still pack a lot of “punch” in terms of our overall happiness.
The gift of experiences creates memories to be cherished. Again, we can reflect upon our own experiences to know the truth of this. Think of your best times in life. Chances are, they were not looking at a new piece of jewelry or tangible item. Our best times in life usually come from experiencing new sights and sounds, especially when they are shared with our loved ones. And isn’t that what really makes Christmas and the holidays so special in the first place? It is sharing special events and experiences together. Perhaps that is the true meaning of Christmas. 🙂
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