Having long been interested in life in the Scandinavian countries, who consistently rate highly in global happiness tables, I was keen to read The Little Book of Lykke: The World’s search for the world’s happiest people by Meik Wiking when I spotted it on a supermarket shelf recently.
Wiking is also the author of The Little Book of Hygge which I had previously enjoyed very much, so I expected to enjoy this one, too.
Experiences versus things?
One of the most salient points that Wiking makes is that buying experiences, rather than things, results in a greater sense of happiness. He quotes a study carried out by Dunn and Norton, who found that ‘study after study [shows that] people are in a better mood when they reflect on their experiential purchases which they describe as “money well spent”‘.
When people are asked to review how happy a purchase made them (such as a mobile phone) compared to spending money on a holiday or concert ticket, far more people will claim that the experience made them happier than the tangible item.
Spending money on experiences will make you happier still if those experiences involve spending time with other people and make you build a closer bond to them, and if they are linked with who you see yourself as being. For example, if you are a history buff you would gain greater happiness from visiting historical sites such as Pompeii if you were on holiday in Italy. Therefore investing in experiences in this way can be perceived as an investment in happy memories and in your personal story and development.
Preserving your memories
Taking photographs whilst you are enjoying the experiences can help to prolong the sense of pleasure, as you are able to look back and prompt your memory to recall details you may otherwise have forgotten. I often create photobooks of our family holidays and the kids enjoy looking back at these with us. I hope they will enjoy doing this for many years to come, as it evokes a shared sense of history and wellbeing and strengthens the bond between us as a family.
It’s similar when I reminisce with close friends about holidays and other experiences that we shared together in years gone by. We often end up laughing so hard we are almost in tears and our sides ache (in a good way!).
I’m a little wary of taking too many photographs, though. There is a danger that we can become so focused on taking countless pictures and striving for the perfect one that we miss actually being present in the moment and enjoying the experience for what it is. That seems a real shame, especially when you have spent so much money on a special experience in the first place.
Not everything is an item in a tick-list
I will never forget the retired couple who sat in the adjacent seats to my husband and I on the William Tell (now known as the Gotthard Panorama Express) train ride in Switzerland. In case you aren’t aware, this very scenic journey takes you through stunning lake and mountain scenery and the trains have extra large, panoramic windows to afford a better view. It’s not a cheap ride, either. When we boarded the train, the pleasant couple were friendly to us and during conversation mentioned that this train trip had featured high up on their to-do list of things to experience in Switzerland. We heartily agreed with them.
However…about fifteen minutes into the ride, both of them fell sound asleep! Shortly after the train departed, they both sat back from the window, reclined into the comfortable seats and seemed to be anticipating a nap. They didn’t wake up until we reached the final destination and I couldn’t help but think what a waste of money it was for them. Perhaps there is a danger of regarding some experiences as mere items to be ticked off in a list, rather than a special time to be savoured and relished?
Fortunately my husband and I gained maximum enjoyment out of the journey and remained glued to the expansive windows for most of it, taking in every little bit of the incredible alpine view as it unfolded before us.
Another point that Wiking makes is that where possible, it is better to plan ahead for your experiences and even book them well in advance. The key benefit to doing this is the sense of anticipation it brings. I have to say that I am rather the queen of doing just this. I usually plan and book holidays well in advance, usually twelve months ahead. We are going on a cruise in August and I booked it a whopping twenty one months in advance. Admittedly, that felt a little crazy at the time even for me, but I love the fact that it gives us extra time to research which shore excursions to do, chat excitedly to the kids about it (many times!) and feel, well, happy just at the thought of knowing it is definitely booked and looking forward to it so much.
I tend to book tickets for shows and concerts as far ahead as possible, too. There is the added bonus of being more likely to secure the best seats by doing so.
It has crossed my mind on occasions that if we cut right back on spending on holidays, weekend trips, concerts and show tickets, we could afford to move to a larger and more impressive home. Admittedly, we are very fortunate that we live in a home that is sufficiently large enough for our family, although it lacks rooms that others may not wish to go without, such as a utility (laundry) room and an extra bathroom. In some ways, the larger home would bring us pleasure. But I’m not convinced that having the additional rooms would compensate for the loss of life-affirming experiences we would miss out on and Wiking’s book has confirmed that we are making the right decision to stay in our current home.
How about you? Do you agree that spending money on experiences rather than things brings more happiness? Which types of experiences do you most enjoy spending money on? I would love to hear from you.
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