Do you remember your first mp3 player, or that non-fat caramel latte you bought last week? How do those items make you feel? Now, think of a Christmas with your family. It probably isn’t the gifts you think of first; you probably think of the conversations, the laughter, and the board games. Lasting joy doesn’t come from objects, it comes from experiences. Our brains are like living scrapbooks; they collect moments in time, frame them, and revisit them constantly. We can derive happiness from these memories years after they are made, and we can enjoy them in a way we can never enjoy material things.
Seek Experiences And Collect Memories
Most of us can distinguish quite clearly the difference between the pleasure we get when our new iPhone arrives in the mail vs. the happiness we feel during a dream vacation to Italy. Whereas we may feel excited during the days leading to a vacation, we tend to feel impatient when waiting for an object. Where most of us lose interest in a new gadget or toy relatively quickly, we tend to cherish a memory.
In one study, researchers explored the relationship between happiness and memory and found that people draw upon past experiences for a sense of happiness and well-being. Another research article analyzed what people tend to regret in life; they discovered that in a descending order of importance, these were the most common regrets in life: education, career, romance, parenting, the self, and leisure. Notice that nowhere in this list is, “not getting a yacht,” or “not buying a Coach purse.” The things on this list are experiences, not things. When we focus on pursuing experiences that we want to have, instead of things we want to buy, we are filling up our scrapbook with beautiful pictures and rich, funny stories. Even more stressful events, once over, can make the most riveting and funny stories.
So, in this society of materialism, how do we change our focus from consumerism, to the pursuit of experiences? Most of us aren’t going to jump off the couch right after reading this and go skydiving, and that’s OK! Some of the happiest moments in our life aren’t the most exciting ones. Here are several ideas to help you start collecting.
Make A Bucket List
We all have things that we secretly want to do. Making a list and sticking it up on your bulletin board will bring those experiences that much closer. Most of us give up on our more ambitious plans, believing them to be impossible or too expensive.
Keep An Adventure Jar
Keep a jar on your kitchen table. Every time you decide not to buy something you don’t really need, or decide not to eat out, put the money you would have spent on those things in the jar. Most of us don’t realize how much money we could save if we didn’t spent it on little, pointless things.
Have Some Small-Time Goals
Not all experiences need to be world-changing. Try doing something differently every week or even every day. Choose a different way to get to work, or have some new people over every once in a while. Take a little time out of the day to experience life instead of becoming stuck in a mindless routine. You may be surprised how these little things can change your life.
Take Time For Family And Friends
Some of the best memories we have are with other people. Just a conversation with a dear friend may be enough to bring you happiness one day when you’re feeling down.
Be Open To New Things
Many of us are afraid to stray outside our comfort zones, which will often keep us from experiencing many things in life and result in regret. Life is meant to be lived. Do new things, they’re how memories are made!
|||^||Sociological Research Online: Happiness and Memory: Some Sociological Reflections|
|||^||US National Library of Medicine: What We Regret Most…and Why|
|||^||The Atlantic: Buy Experiences, Not Things|