Whether I buy a cute new dress or a fun nail polish shade, the mood result is almost always the same: I feel happy and excited, but it never lasts beyond the first wear. A month later, I’ll look at that same dress or nail polish and feel nothing at all. It’s just one more thing in a closet or bathroom cabinet full of things.
But a dinner out with friends last week… Bike-riding through China with my boyfriend… My weekend ritual of canyon hiking and cappuccinos… Unlike “things,” those are memories that never fail to make me happy and excited all over again.
Cars, Vacations, and Perceived Values
Even though I know that life experiences hold more value emotionally than material items, it still feels like a better bet to put money toward something that holds real-world value instead. Vacations are a splurge; material items are an investment. And as a recent study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology points out, most Americans are the same way.
Happiness Is an Economic Investment
“We naturally associate economic value with stuff. I bought this car, it’s worth $8,000,” said SF State Associate Professor of Psychology and study co-author Ryan Howell, in a press release. “We have a hard time estimating the economic value we would place on our memories.”
Even though we recognize that a vacation will make us happier than a car, for example, there’s no definitive way to put a price tag on emotion. But Howell maintains that we shouldn’t just discount life experiences because the effect isn’t as quantifiable.
“Happiness is not some fleeting, positive emotion we experience in the moment. There are tremendous benefits to happiness,” he explains. “Companies want their [employees] to be happier because they are more productive. Doctors want their patients to be happier because they will be healthier. We should try to figure out how to help people maximize their happiness because of all the benefits that come from it.”
Come On, Go Get Happy
So is the lesson sell your car, quit your job, and go on the vacation of a lifetime? Not quite, but if you’re choosing between a trendy designer purse or putting money into a vacation fund, stop and really consider which one will bring you the most happiness in the long run. Your job and health just might depend on it.