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Studies Show That People Who Buy Experiences, Not Things, Are Happier

Studies Show That People Who Buy Experiences, Not Things, Are Happier

Let’s say that you recently came into a bit of money. What would you do with it? Would you rather buy a bunch of high quality gadgets and products, or go on an expensive vacation to a unique and exciting locale?

Personally, I’ve wavered between the two. I like my gadgets more than most, so I’ve probably spent more on electronics than your average person. That said, I’ve been on trips taking me all across the United States, and I definitely think I am better off for it.

Luckily, the question of whether to spend your money on products or experiences has been answered by science, and thus you’ll no longer have to worry about whether you should choose one over the other in the future. So what is the verdict? According to San Francisco State University, people are far more satisfied when they purchase experiences, than they are when they buy material objects.

And yet, most people, including myself, are prone to spending our hard earned money on things like clothes, shoes, gadgets, jewelry, cars, and the like. We do this because these things are tangible: we can hold them, use them, etc. When we buy experiences, all we have are the memories, and thus, it seems like we’re getting less out of our purchase.

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What that study reveals, however, is that in the long run, we cherish our memories and experiences far more than the things that we buy. And it makes sense. Decades from now, will you remember your cross country trip that took you to the Grand Canyon, or that Xbox you waited in line for all night? Probably the former.

Let’s break it down into simpler points. Why exactly are people who buy experiences, rather than objects, happier?

1. They have plenty of memories to fall back on.

Professor Thomas Gilovich out of Cornell made a point of saying that while new things are “exciting to us at first,” they quickly become blasé as time passes. Soon enough, they’re a mundane part of our daily existence that adds little if anything to the amount of joy we feel on a daily basis.

We’ve all felt this with our smartphone purchases. For the first few weeks, they’re so amazing that you just can’t stop using them. You do everything on them: text, e-mail, web browsing, e-reading, and more. In about a month, though, you get used to it. You start treating it like a “thing,” rather than something that actively brings you happiness.

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I’ve often asked myself why so many people have smartphones with cracked screens. Is it because so many folks are simply that clumsy? After doing the research for this article, I’d have to say no. It’s because people stop seeing their smartphone as “valuable” over time, and thus, they’ll treat what was once an expensive purchase with the kind of reckless abandon that leads to drops, scratches, and inevitably, cracks.

Those who spend the majority of their income on experiences, however, don’t have this problem. While they may not have the latest smartphone, they are likely more well-traveled, and thus have far more life experience. While others need to keep buying new products to keep their spirits up, those who buy experiences can always fall back on their good memories when they need to. It’s much like comparing a sugar rush to a good nap. One is more instantaneous, but the other has more lasting benefits.

2. They reap the long-term benefits.

With over 79 million millenials in the United States (three million more than the amount of Baby Boomers), we are bound to change the way that things work.

One part of this comes from the fact that we’ve grown up during an economic recession. As such, we haven’t had the luxury of being able to spend what little money we have on objects with fleeting value. Instead, we’ve been focusing on long-term investments like higher education and travel.

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Indeed, when I was in college, I noticed how many of my peers chose to save their money for traveling abroad, or to make student loan payments, rather than splurge on alcohol or other purchases typical of young adults.

Not only does this save resources in the long run, but it allows us to forge an identity in a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to find one’s place. And doing so, according to researchers, is a crucial aspect of growing up in today’s world.

3. They share their experiences with others.

As introverted as I am, I must still admit that I am happier when I have a bit of social interaction now and then. Additionally, conversing with others is always more fun when you get to recount some kind of unique experience to them. Indeed, Peter Caprariello and Harry Reis examined this phenomenon in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. What it found, essentially, was that experiences make us happier because we get to share our memories with others. Buying objects leaves us feeling more hollow because they are normally things that we use by ourselves.

It’s probably why, in one study, researchers found that those anticipating an experience (like waiting in line to see a play), rather than the purchase of an object (like waiting in line to buy an iPhone), were found to be much happier. It’s because they knew they were going to experience something that they could share with other people. Something that will help them connect with others in a particularly unique manner. As nice as a new iPhone is, in the end, it’s just one smartphone in what’s likely to be a long line of smartphone purchases in your lifetime.

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This kind of happiness-related research is already having a major effect. Indeed, you can find several articles (like this one) detailing the lives of those who traded in their material-based lifestyle for one centered around things that are more substantial, such as travel and education.

While it’s obviously impossible to completely stop buying material objects, we can stop basing our happiness in terms of how many nice things we own. As these studies show, what truly brings us enjoyment and fulfillment in the end are our experiences, and the resulting memories that we get to share with our family and friends.

Featured photo credit: Couple/Mo Riza via flic.kr

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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