For as long as humans have existed, we have all chased the same thing: Happiness. Some attempt to find it in money, clothes, and fancy cars. Others choose books, movies, toys, and other material objects. While all of those things are nice, it turns out the real secret to happiness is experiences, not things.
Experiences, Not Things, Are The Secret To Happiness
Wealthy or not, if you want to be happy, you should start investing your money, time, and energy into experiences and not stuff. That’s right: Experiences are the secret to happiness.
In May 2020, New York University released a study proving that new and diverse experiences are linked to happiness. (1)
“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines–when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” explained co-author Catherine Hartley. (1)
Think about some of your happiest days or memories. What do they entail? Likely, they involved doing something: A fun family vacation, running your first marathon, a fun day at the beach with friends, or learning how to surf for the first time.
Sure, things do bring us happiness, but that happiness is temporary and lasts only until something new and shinier comes along. Experiences, however, create lasting memories. When you fill your days with experiences, big and small, you are happier overall.
“Collectively, these findings show the beneficial consequences of environmental enrichment across species, demonstrating a connection between real-world exposure to fresh and varied experiences and increases in positive emotions,” said co-author Aaron Heller. (1)
In layman’s terms, this means doing fun and/or rewarding things each day makes us happy.
The Experiences Don’t Have To Be Big Or Expensive
Of course, vacations, concerts, parties, and events are fun and bring us a lot of joy. The researchers say, however, that even small things can benefit. (1) For example, activities such as (1):
- An at-home workout
- Going for a walk
- Taking a different route to the grocery store
These, and so many more little activities, can add variety and experience to our day that we otherwise wouldn’t have.
The study, which involved tracking people via GPS and recording their feelings, found a positive correlation between the number of places visited and positive emotion. The more variety people had in a physical location, the more likely they were to report feeling happy, excited, strong, relaxed, and attentive. (1)
The researchers then studied participants’ brain activity via an MRI scan. Here, they actually found a correlation between activity in certain sections of the brain, a variety of experiences throughout the day, and positive emotion. (1)
“These results suggest a reciprocal link between the novel and diverse experiences we have during our daily exploration of our physical environments and our subjective sense of well-being,” Hartley explained. (1)
How To Use Experiences To Unlock The Secret To Happiness
As I mentioned before, while vacations and traveling are brilliant ways to have incredible experiences, they are not always feasible. No one, no matter how much money they have or how flexible their job is, can be on vacation all the time.
The important thing is putting your time, energy, and occasionally a little money into experiences over things. Try learning a new skill, like skateboarding or painting. Sign up for a 5k race and follow a training plan to prepare for it. Spend a day with friends or family at the beach or the park. Go sledding or skating in the winter. Take your dog to a different dog park or visit a cool coffee shop in a different part of your city or town.
If you can, start a savings account for experiences so that eventually, you can afford to take that trip or sign up for those scuba diving lessons or whatever it is that you want to do. While clothes, technology, and toys are fun, they will never bring you daily joy. Creating new memories each day will.
- “New and diverse experiences linked to enhanced happiness, new study shows.” Eurekalert. May 18, 2020.