Happiness is NOT a Robot Dog
When my daughter was about six years old, she wanted a robot dog she’d seen advertised on television. She begged for it. My wife and I told her that the robot dog was not worth it, so we wouldn’t buy it. She insisted on getting it. She was sure it would bring her happiness. She saved birthday money and did extra chores until she’d scraped together enough to buy it. Within a few days, she had abandoned it and even harbored resentment at the adult world of advertising for conning her out of her money. That same year, we took a trip to Italy. The dog was long ago donated and forgotten (except for the suspicion that remains about false advertising), but that trip is still vivid in her mind. Memories of the trip make her smile and she still asks when we’re going to go again.
This is the core of the argument about happiness and whether objects or experiences have any impact. Research shows that using your hard-earned money to purchase things doesn’t provide the same level of happiness that purchasing an experience does. Why is that?
Objectively Looking at Objects
Purchasing an object may give you a short-term rush of excitement. But, as the theory goes, once the novelty wears off, you either discard the object or relegate it to the multitude of other objects that make up your mundane, everyday surroundings. Neither of these scenarios increases your happiness. In fact, it may leave you craving another fix. Before you know it, you may have started to cycle into a habit of shopping for the “high.” And when objects lose their luster, you’re at it again. People who find themselves in this cycle become addicted to the excitement of finding and purchasing and showing their prizes to friends. Unfortunately, in the end, the thrill wanes as well as the bank account, and you are no happier than before. In fact, you could seep slowly into feelings of dissatisfaction that you try to fix with more shopping.
Experiences and Happiness
An alternative to this cycle is spending some of those funds on experiences instead. As opposed to purchasing things, purchasing experiences have the following benefits:
- Looking forward to an experience, such as a concert, trip, date, etc. provides a higher level of joy of anticipation than buying an object. In fact, the purchase of big items often leads to negative anticipation. You can easily get caught up in self-doubt and worry that you are getting a “good deal.”
- You are less likely to compare your experiences negatively with those of others. In other words, most people don’t fall into the “keeping up with the Jones” mentality with experiences. In fact, the opposite is true. People tend to enjoy hearing stories from friends about the awesome concert or funny thing that prevented them from even getting there.
- The novelty of objects wears off, whereas the fond memories of an experience actually grows over time. I bet there are events that occurred years ago that only make you feel better each time you remember them. Think about how it brightens your day when a dear friend or loved one says, “Remember the time we…” Do you burst in to laughter even before you can tell the story?
- Shared experiences (even bad ones) create closer connections to others. These connections are the very bonds that result in a happy life. Research shows that it is not our stuff, but or relationships that keep us healthy and happy. Ask yourself: “Will your iPad be there for you in your time of need with a shoulder to cry on?”
- Finally, even a bad experience can become a good story. Remember that embarrassing incident that you tell everyone because it’s funny now (though it wasn’t at the time)? I’m not talking about trauma or tragedy here. I’m talking about the accidental detour, the terrible wedding singer, or the quirky dinner with the weird waiter.
How Do I Get the Most of an Experience
A wonderful option to create a memorable vacation can be found in the world of retreats. A retreat allows you to relax and get to know like-minded people. You may be thinking, “but I’m an introvert. I don’t want to meet like-minded people.” Ah, but why not find a retreat that understands your need for some quiet and solitude? For the introvert, it’s a lovely thing to stay at a cozy B&B with people who also understand the need you have for space.I lead retreats that focus on peace, relaxation, and cultivating a deep connection to nature through art. Before you dismiss the idea of an art retreat because you can’t draw a stick figure to save your life, let me tell you that skill level has no relevance. That’s right. My art retreats are for all levels. If you paint like Monet, you will be able to concentrate and have the space to create and learn a few skills. If you think you have no ability, I will guide you. And you will be amazed at the result. You have more talent than you think hidden inside. Besides, the retreat is really about the experience. You’ll learn to see the world as an artist… and take with you an inner peace that will last the rest of your life.
The May Retreat was a huge, fun success! Look for another one in the fall.
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About the Author
David Borden is an award-winning artist, writer, and educator. Once, long ago, he sold everything and moved to Morocco for five years. He is often described as unconventional, irreverent, and indomitable. He is well acquainted with stress, depression, and grief. His first graphic novel, And Yet We Rise, was featured on Fox7 News. The story is about coping with the short, but profound life of his oldest daughter, who passed away just shy of her fifteenth birthday. She taught him to laugh loudly, face every day with courage, and dare to dream. He lives with his wife and daughter in Austin, Texas. He’s the faithful pet of a very demanding cat.
Meet David at one of these upcoming shows:
POP Cats , August 25, 26
Staple! Austin Independent Media Expo September 8,9
Austin Comic Con September 21-23 (contact me for a 20% discount)