The Shocking Secret to Happiness

what is the secret to happinessNote from Paula: Today’s story is about a scientist who discovered the secret to happiness.

I wrote this article when I was a newspaper reporter in Colorado. This story laid the groundwork for my early ideas about money, and I’m proud to share it with you today.

The Secret to Happiness

A University of Colorado researcher has discovered the recipe for happiness.

Hike the Grand Canyon. Sing karaoke. Dance the tango. Grill out with friends. And no matter what, don’t skimp on those experiences to save for a bigger apartment or plasma television.

University of Colorado-Boulder psychology professor and happiness expert Leaf Van Boven recently concluded a study in which he found that spending limited money on life experiences instead of material possessions generally makes people happier.

Van Boven polled people from all walks of life about past activities and purchases. He found people’s moods elevated more when they recalled experiences – even if the experience, at the time it happened, wasn’t that great.

In other words, memories get rosier with hindsight. Objects depreciate.

“The compelling reason people invest in material possessions is you get to retain it over time,” Van Boven said. But in truth, experience is “really quite enduring and improving.”

This is partly because people tend to recall sunnier parts of a trip — the roller-coaster rides, the dolphins in the ocean — while forgetting about the long car ride and cranky kids, he said. It’s also because people are less likely to engage in an experiential arms-race with their neighbors.

Only one person in the neighborhood can have the biggest house or nicest car, Van Boven said, but someone else’s trip to Costa Rica doesn’t cheapen one’s own trip to the Rockies. “Experiences tend to be less prone to those kinds of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ effect,” he said.

Even the changing definition of “basic needs” is influenced by what others have. “Things like air conditioners people nowadays say they absolutely need,” Van Boven said. “Seventy-five years ago nobody would have said that.”

That’s where experiences come into play. A luxury Caribbean cruise isn’t more happiness-inducing than dinner and a movie with friends, Van Boven found. What counts most are memories that emerge from the experience – which tend to be increasingly cherished over time.

Of course, the dichotomy of experience versus objects “is kind of a fuzzy one,” Van Boven said. People need possessions – like a bicycle, skis or a car – to have experiences. The trick is to buy tools as a means to an end, he said.

Ask yourself, “To what extent does your purchase allow you to do new things?” Van Boven said. “If you already have a car that runs reasonably well, getting a newer and better car probably won’t expand your experiential profile.”

The exception to this rule is seen in the poorest of the poor, he found. “Those people at the very lowest levels of income were least likely to say that experiences made them happier than material possessions,” he said.

He ventures two hypotheses to explain this. First, deciding how to spend discretionary income is itself a luxury. Second, “a lot of the experiences people pursue have some kind of educational experience to them.”

A visit to an art museum, a play, a comedy club, a baseball game and a personal quest to climb all of Colorado’s highest peaks share one common thread, he said – “you have to know how to enjoy them.”

Join The Revolution
Get FREE Tips on Building Wealth and Living an Epic Life.

Note: By Paula Pant
Original Publication: The Colorado Daily 6/31/2007




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags:

70 Responses to “The Shocking Secret to Happiness”

  1. Lance
    26. Sep, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Paula,
    I love this!!

    I’m all for experiences…and, as we speak (errr…write!), my family and I are preparing for our next experience in late October. It’s been fun getting ready for this latest adventure – and in the process, recalling all sorts of other adventures we’ve had through the years.

  2. Danielle McGaw
    26. Sep, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I liked it on Facebook! http://facebook.com/daniellemcgaw

  3. Danielle McGaw
    26. Sep, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    I shared it on Google+
    https://plus.google.com/113315561712034132772/posts

  4. Carol
    26. Sep, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    I just signed up via RSS feed – you are on my Google home page! I like your blog; you are a great writer, and make your points well. As soon as my kids are old enough to appreciate what you’re sharing, they are going to subscribe also!

    • AffordAnything.org
      27. Sep, 2011 at 2:04 am #

      @Carol — Thank you so much!! I’m really flattered. Please keep in touch and keep commenting; I love to hear from readers like you!

  5. Stephen
    26. Sep, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    One entry please! I’m subscribed via RSS in Google Reader.

  6. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter
    26. Sep, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I have always been more about experiences than stuff. I think that is why I spend money on travel. You learn and see so much when you are places other than home. I will remember all of these trips till the day I die.

    • AffordAnything.org
      27. Sep, 2011 at 2:03 am #

      @Miss T — Good for you!! I’m the same way; I spend a huge chunk of my income on experiences (like traveling to different countries/cities, or trying new hobbies like snowboarding) but I spend almost nothing on “stuff,” unless the item is a tool that aids in my experience.

  7. Ashley @ Everything Finance
    26. Sep, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Great article. I love the explaination about how you don’t compare your experiences to other people’s experiences the way you do with say, your car. And that they get better with age. very true.

    • AffordAnything.org
      27. Sep, 2011 at 2:05 am #

      @Ashley — The lesson about memories improving with age has stuck with me for years, ever since I first learned it while writing this article. Scientists call this “nostalgia bias.” I call it “feeling happy about your past.” :-)

  8. Stan
    26. Sep, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Hey Paula, cool post. The offer of a voucher is no good to me here on the Emerald Isle, but the message contained within certainly is. With four kids all above 16 now it’s easy to relate to it, none of them ever talks about the cars we’ve owned or the extensions we built but our best nights are always the ones we spend around a table reminiscing about holidays and trips. Life is about memories not things.
    Cheers.

    • AffordAnything.org
      27. Sep, 2011 at 2:15 am #

      @Stan — And I bet your favorite memories with your kids are the things that you DID together as a family, not the stuff you bought. I’m glad you and your kids can all relate to this so well!! :-)

  9. Buck Inspire
    27. Sep, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Terrific article! Interesting how experiences do get better over time, like fine wine. Also, no keeping up with the Joneses effect. Signed up for email tips and liked on FB. Good luck with your giveaway!

  10. TusaRebecca
    27. Sep, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I subscribed to emails.

  11. TusaRebecca
    27. Sep, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    I subscribed to emails, again.

  12. TusaRebecca
    27. Sep, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    I +1′d it and shared on Google+. https://plus.google.com/107448427576067622716/posts

  13. Hunter @ Financially Consumed
    27. Sep, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    Nicely put Paula. So true. I plan on checking-out with a bag full of experiences.

    Subscribed to your email feed & 1+’d

  14. retirebyforty
    27. Sep, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Subscribed to your RSS and shared on facebook.
    http://www.facebook.com/retirebyforty

  15. Untemplater
    28. Sep, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    I’m all about spending money on experiences instead of material things. I’ve lost interest in a lot of my possessions which is why I’m always trying to minimalize. I get the most excited about travel – the anticipation, the trip itself, and then all the memories afterwards. -Sydney

  16. Christa
    28. Sep, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I remember every single trip I ever took, but I can’t imagine why I bought some things sometimes — great article!

  17. Lynda
    28. Sep, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    i follow by rss reader

  18. valerie mabrey
    10. Oct, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    email subscriber
    vmkids3 at msn dot com

  19. EMMA L HORTON
    11. Oct, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    E-MAIL SUBSCRIBER

  20. EMMA L HORTON
    11. Oct, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    E-MAIL SUBSCRIBER #2

  21. Name
    11. Oct, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    email subscriber

    entry #1

  22. Name
    11. Oct, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    email subscriber

    entry #2

  23. Jeannine
    11. Oct, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Subscribed by RSS feed

  24. Piracanto
    12. Oct, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I’ve been reading You for the last 3 months and I almost believe you could read my mind. My job usually sends me somewhere interesting very 3-4 months, on high budget, so the travel bug its been in my brain for years now.
    Then, I settled. BIG mistake, I’m trying to get back traveling! Bought a Bike, and research how to travel very cheap. Now, I’m in debt, not that much, but I’m planning to get out fast, in 1 year or less, and then, road here I come!

  25. Piracanto
    12. Oct, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    And the 2nd post for the gift card ;)

  26. Josie
    13. Oct, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    I subscribed by e-mail

  27. Josie
    13. Oct, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Entry #2

  28. Kristie
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    I subscribe via email #1

  29. Kristie
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    I subscribe via email #2

  30. amy delong
    15. Oct, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    subscribe 1
    ardelong2(at)gmail(dot)com

  31. amy delong
    15. Oct, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    subscribe 2
    ardelong2(at)gmail(dot)com

  32. Breanne
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Google Reader subscriber.

  33. Name
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    I subscribed by email

  34. Name
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    I subscribed by email #2entry
    cheap4kids at yahoo dot com

  35. Name
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    I shared on FB
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=136044766496701&id=100002886177297
    cheap4kids at yahoo dot com

  36. Tes
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Email subscriber #1: I enjoy reading your blog :) I have a family & we love to travel. So some of your tips actually work for a family as well. In addition, I’m looking into purchasing a property or two to rent. I want to build a stream of passive income and I think the market where I live is now at a point that I can make it happen. Thank you very much.

  37. Tes
    15. Oct, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Email subscriber #2 post :)

  38. Justin D.
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    subscribed to your blog via email

    kappasighacksaw(at)live(dot)com

    entry #1

  39. Justin D.
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    subscribed to your blog via email

    kappasighacksaw(at)live(dot)com

    entry #2

  40. Justin D.
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    posted on facebook
    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=123031667804265&id=100002420900104

    kappasighacksaw(at)live(dot)com

  41. Justin D.
    15. Oct, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    gave you a +1..google name is Justin D. (bigdaddysweeper at gmail)

    kappasighacksaw(at)live(dot)Com

  42. Lindsey
    01. Dec, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    I know this is a little old.. but I love this!! everything about it is soo true! As much as a love my gadgets, what I toss around and around in my head are the memories made while traveling or hanging out with friends.

  43. Betsy Booth
    11. Dec, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Good luck with your giveaway! Google Reader subscriber. You learn and see so much when you are places other than home. My job usually sends me somewhere interesting very 3-4 months, on high budget, so the travel bug its been in my brain for years now.

  44. Daisy
    30. Jun, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    Hey thanks for your wonderful article! It has put my thoughts into perspective. Now I know that I’d rather spend my $2000 on a romantic holiday to Bali with my boyfriend than spend it on the classic Chanel bag that I’ve been drooling after :)

    • Afford Anything
      02. Jul, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

      @Daisy — I’m glad you realize that!! Money management is the art of aligning your spending with your highest priorities, whatever those may be. If travel is your priority — go for it!

  45. snabblån
    04. Jan, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I just shared it on google+ :) Thank you for this post, i will take what i have learned.

  46. Thorn
    06. Jan, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Well I know this is a little old.. but I definitely shared this on facebook. everything about it is soo true! I get the most excited about travel – the anticipation, the trip itself, and then all the memories afterwards. -Copenhagen

  47. Emilie
    12. Apr, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks for sharing! I’m feeding myself the positive still. Have the best !

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Friday Round-Up: Finance, Parenting and Mom Blogs | MomVesting - 30. Sep, 2011

    [...] points out that spending on experiences can make you happier than purchasing tangible items. So book that vacation; you really can Afford [...]

  2. Straight Talk on Debt: Featuring #FinCon11 Attendees - 30. Sep, 2011

    [...] The Secret to Happiness   @affordanything  "He found people's moods elevated more when they recalled experiences – even if the experience, at the time it happened, wasn't that great. In other words, memories get rosier with hindsight. Objects depreciate." [...]

  3. Financial Bloggers Round Up | Kylie Ofiu - 03. Oct, 2011

    [...] The Secret To Happiness from Afford Anything is probably my favourite post. I am not sure if it appeals to me as my thinking has been leaning more towards this way or if it just makes senses. So Over Debt we have her fantastic post 5 Fairy Tales That Keep You In Debt! I bet you never thought of fairy tales this way. [...]

  4. Can You Figure Out What This Woman Earns? | Afford Anything - 10. Oct, 2011

    [...] Afford Anything by email (2 entries) or by RSS feed (1 entry). Leave a comment at the bottom of my Secret to Happiness post saying that you subscribed. (Go to that link). If you subscribe by email, leave 2 [...]

  5. Why I Quit My Job – and Why I Almost Didn’t | Afford Anything - 08. Nov, 2011

    [...] Don’t forget you can win a $100 gift card — details here. [...]

  6. Wealth Creation Online: Inteview with Kylie Ofiu - 18. Nov, 2011

    [...] secret to happiness from Paula at Afford Anything http://afford-anything.com/2011/09/26/the-secret-to-happiness/ Life is not just about [...]

  7. Surprising Research Reveals How to Be Happier | Afford Anything - 28. Nov, 2011

    [...] more options. If there’s a narrow spread, people perceive themselves as stuck, and their happiness levels [...]

  8. Diets and Debt: Managing Money and Your Weight - Afford Anything | Afford Anything - 12. Dec, 2011

    [...] found that it’s not what you own that makes you happy. Happiness comes from the freedom and choices that your money affords [...]

  9. Are Money and Happiness Related? Research Says Yes. | Afford Anything - 05. Mar, 2012

    [...] to happiness, perhaps because it lights up the section of the brain that’s wired for reward. How people spend money also plays an important role. Money spent on objects, like nicer furniture, tends to produce less [...]

  10. Afford Anything - Dive Into Real Estate Investing | Mad Fientist - 08. Apr, 2013

    [...] The Secret to Happiness [...]

  11. You Know What Really Sucks? Cubicles. | Afford Anything - 08. May, 2013

    [...] and you don’t either, but only if you quit believing that consumption is the meaning of life. Spend your money on experiences, not stuff. And embrace work for its mission and purpose, not its [...]

  12. Drugs, Your Brain, and Holiday Sales | Afford Anything - 05. Dec, 2013

    […] brains are hardwired to feel “happiness” – in the form of a chemical called dopamine – when we encounter novelty (shopping for new […]

  13. The Top 29 Best Personal Finance Sites For Recent College Grads To Read Today - Graduating from Debt - 14. Dec, 2013

    […] 3. http://affordanything.com/2011/09/26/the-secret-to-happiness/ […]

  14. How To Be Happy – 54 Ways to Permanently Increase Your Set Point - 16. Dec, 2013

    […] -NYTimes, The Right Way to Buy Happiness -Afford Anything, The Shocking Secret to Happiness -Ted Talks, How to buy happiness -NYTimes, But Will it Make You Happy? -Lifehacker, Spending on […]

  15. It’s Better to Give … But It’s BEST to Feel Gratitude | Afford Anything - 25. Dec, 2013

    […] gifts won’t create sustained happiness. After a few days or weeks, their luster […]

Leave a Reply