The Key to Happiness: Buy Experiences Not Things

Tags: Study Abroad,Travel,Ireland,happiness,intern,intern blogs

by Ellie Jordan WSA Intern

It took me a 3,500 mile flight, a four hour bus ride, a tumultuous boat ride, and a steep, uphill hike to the edge of a cliff on an island off the western coast of Ireland to understand what the purest form of happiness felt like.

I had on a backpack containing my notebook, camera, and a bottle of water. Breathless, carrying only the bare essentials, I stared out upon a blue sea, where it met the gray sky and where its white-capped waves met the rocks below.

I felt a weightless sort of happiness unlike any I’d ever experienced before.

    My travel-induced joy is not surprising, nor is it any particular exception. I am one of many who have felt the soul-satisfying, life-enriching happiness provided by experiencing travel.

Thomas Gilovich says in the Journal of Consumer Psychology that experiential purchases such as traveling create long-lasting happiness and well-being, while material purchases like clothes or jewelry provide only a temporary pleasure. He makes the point that we become attached to certain possessions mainly because they serve as reminders of the experience that went along with purchasing them.

So, at the root of many of our material attachments is an experience that held great significance in our lives. Think about the souvenirs we take home from vacations, the friendship bracelets we buy, the teapot passed down from grandparents. None of these things are inherently meaningful without the experience that went with it. The scratchy wool sweater I bought in Dublin holds its significance thanks to the place it’s from, not from the item itself. That thing is seriously itchy.

Gilovich says that the reason we get such intense satisfaction from our experiences is because they are so closely associated with our own identity. They are the dried tears on our sleeves, the scars, the tattoos, the wrinkles from smiling so hard it hurts… they are the stories of who we were and how we got to be the person we are today.

Our experiences are us.

When you find yourself weaving through the cobbled alleyways of Rome or walking beside the canal in Amsterdam, you will not be longing for handheld commodities. Why would you, when the greatest, most beautiful gift of all is what’s around you?

Two summers ago, I traveled to Athens. Standing beside the parthenon as the sun began to set, painting the sky in pastel colors and shedding a buttery light upon the columns of the ancient structure, I felt the familiar happiness that I’d first experienced on the cliffside of western Ireland.

A handheld token of the visit could never encapsulate that feeling as wholly as the memory of the experience itself.

    I think back to my first trip to Ireland frequently. It opened my eyes to a new kind of joy, a kind that filled me from the bottom up instead of just filling a shallow pool of fleeting pleasure. I began to understand that happiness is not the dotted line I once knew it as, but rather, it has the potential to be as complete and sustaining as the sun.

    If personal experiences are equated to a heightened sense of self as Gilovich says, then a person who travels is undoubtedly the most self-assured of us all. Those who travel have the sort of experiences that are not only memorable, but transformative.

So for you lot who are looking for a sign during the new year to tell you to make a much-needed change in your life, here it is. Book a ticket, book an experience, book happiness.  

Use the code ELIANAROSE for €10 off a guided trip or €5 off a DIY detour


Ben Swick, University of Dayton

Happy Backpackers

Everything was so organized and the tour guide was AWESOME! They had everything planned out and I got a really good feel for life in the city. We even got to cut the lines for the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh museum. It was definitely worth the money and I would recommend to anyone looking for a fun filled weekend.

Ben Swick, University of Dayton ~ ISA Maynooth University, Fall 2015

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