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Spending Less on Things & More on Experiences Makes You Happier

Before you keep reading, let us state that there is nothing absolutely wrong with engaging a little retail therapy for when you just need that new palette, shirt, lip balm, or shoes. We aren’t trying to make you live like monks here. Cutting through the righteous bird turd and talking about how we don’t need things to be happy is asinine. We are human and need the things because of the world we live in today. Holding something tangible in our hands just makes us happy.

What we want to drive home here is that engaging in buying all the things when you’re experiencing any level of emotion can become a habit that will end up bringing you debt instead of joy. Every time you’re mad, sad, happy, or celebrating something and you run out and get shoes, over time, you become desensitized to the thrill of that new item. Eventually, you end up with stuff all over the place. Then, you need to buy more and more just to reach that new high (Boven & Gilovich, 2003).

My good friend literally gave me this idea that we should spend less on things and more on experiences. It basically put in effect a no-buy that is ever so painful but also teaching us so many things at the same time. Here’s some research that talks about this phenomenon if you don’t want to take my word for it. It’s also a thing on Pinterest so if you like to keep on trend, try out this challenge. This challenge is probably worse than that one time I tried to run 3 miles every day.

The Research

Let’s make this section quick and sweet. First, correlation does not mean causation. Findings in research can be interpreted but they can never be stated definitively. Anyone who tells you that x causes y should be questioned. With that said, this particular research finding by Pchelin and Howell (2014) states that those who spend more money on experiences were happier and felt that their money went to a worthy cause. Weidman and Dunn (2015) found that while buying things made people happy, it only made them happy in that instance and only for a short time. Lastly, before you fall asleep, findings by Nicolao and colleagues (2009) found that people adapt quicker to material purchases (e.g., get happy quick then forget why they’re happy with that item) and slower to experiences, also known as hedonic adaptation.

Stop Going to Target

So, now that you know we’re not making this stuff up with some recent research to back this up, we have to say this begrudgingly. Stop going to Target or online to Some of you don’t go to Target, but some of you do. We are talking to you who can relate to us. Really, like stop going for just a little bit and see what happens. Try 2 days at first then increase to 4 days. We used to run to Target every time we had a hard day to get small things from the dollar section or a new shirt that wasn’t even on sale. Eventually, we had to call it quits because we were equating instant gratification of new things with quelling the stress of the day and misinterpreting the byproduct of all of that as “happiness”.

Instead, try some of this stuff and see if you feel happier, longer….

There are experiences you love, they may be familiar and some may be new, but they are all free or low-cost.. Here are a few of our favorites.

Walk at the Beach/Favorite Park

If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, then taking long walks on the beach can awaken your mind and soul. A walk at a nice park can do the same thing. Let the deep ocean waters and trees absorb all your worries and renew your life.

Go on a New Hike/Discover a New Trail

Most hikes and trails are free. Might seem a little lame at first but once you get there, it’ll be an amazing experience. You will just need to Google your local park and recreation for “best trails/best hikes”. Get on some sturdy shoes, bring some water, and go experience something new.

Eat Something New & Eat it S-l-o-w-l-y

Ok, this cost money, but right now, we are obsessed with pies. A slice is less than $10 and if you eat it slowly, savoring all the flavors, it can be a rather amazing experience. Better yet, grab your favorite friend, get two slices, and experience the goodness, twice.

Do Something Nice for Someone Else

The thing to remember here is that you have to do it without expecting anything in return. If you donate to a dog rescue, don’t expect dogs to send you homemade paw cupcakes in return. If you want to surprise your favorite someone by sending them some goodies just because or because they’re having one of those days, don’t announce it. Let it be a true surprise and you’ll automatically be happy by their genuine expression of surprise and gratitude. Giving literally makes your brain happy. If you wait for them to give back to you, then it becomes about you again and there you go, losing the whole purpose of finding joy in the experience of giving.

Try a New Hobby/Learn Something New

For us, it’s hand lettering and learning this bullet journaling business. For others, it could be learning how to make ice cream or knitting. Some of this cost money but don’t spend a trillion dollars on a new hobby. Get the basic materials you need in order to experience this new hobby. If you like it, invest in it more. If you don’t like it, you won’t feel so horrible investing so much money into it and you can always find something new. The key here is that you are learning something new. Learning helps your brain age slower and learning very difficult things even makes your brain stronger.

Listen to a Friend

We aren’t talking about listening to a friend complain or crack jokes. But, really listen to them. If you talk to them long enough, you end up learning a ton of new things that you never knew. Recently, I learned about all these conspiracy theories and stuff about aliens that made me keep the light on at night. But, it was interesting and fun. It brought me happiness learning about different interests that a dear friend had and it was awesome she was willing to share that side of herself with me. Making the time to form a stronger bond with someone you really enjoy can be a priceless experience in and of itself.


Being happy doesn’t have to be so expensive. Even J. Lo says love don’t cost a thing but that’s if you want to listen to J.Lo. Love cost some things sometimes, like a slice of pie with extra ice cream on top. It can be as simple as cuddling with your puppy every night, kicking some sand around, or watching another sunrise with a great cup of coffee. Look for experiences that enrich your life and nurture your soul.


More Reading Material



Boven, L. V., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To Do or to Have? That Is the Question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 1193-1202.

Nicolao, L., Irwin, J. R., & Goodman, J. K. (2009). Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential Purchases Make Consumers Happier than Material Purchases? Journal of Consumer Research, 36(2), 188-198.

Pchelin, P., & Howell, R. T. (2014). The hidden cost of value-seeking: People do not accurately forecast the economic benefits of experiential purchases. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(4), 322-334

Weidman, A. C., & Dunn, E. W. (2016). The Unsung Benefits of Material Things. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(4), 390-399.

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  1. Pingback: How to Stop a Bad Mood - TERI MIYAHIRA

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