The business section of the New York Times ran a major story on consumption and happiness this weekend. To sum up the findings of a number of prominent psychologists quoted in the article, spending on an experience provides more lasting happiness than spending on stuff.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California, Riverside with a grant from the US National Institute of Mental Health to study the possibility of permanently increasing happiness, spending on travel experiences is a happiness ‘best buy’. She claims that travel provides longer-lasting happiness because unlike a new jacket or a TV, it cannot be consumed in one go. Travel enhances social relations. It creates memories that can be savored. Most importantly, Lyubomirsky argues, we edit those memories to put a positive spin on the past. “That trip to Rome during which you waited in endless lines, broke your camera and argued with your spouse will typically be airbrushed with rosy recollection.”
I’m not so convinced about the ‘rosy recollection’ part, I remember a lot of terrible trips very vividly, but I am sold on the idea that travel experiences create the best emotional bang for your dollar – or pound, euro or whatever. I’m thinking, in fact, about this year’s summer trip to North Carolina. I’ve been back in London for almost a week, but I am still happier than when I left. Why? Because I am emotionally satisfied. It’s not so much what we did in North Carolina. In fact, we do the same things every year. We eat barbeque, go to the beach, play tennis and visit Chapel Hill. The reason I am emotionally satisfied is the simple but invaluable pleasure of doing those things with the same people every year, a collection of friends and relations with whom I hope to be forever connected. Whatever it cost to get to North Carolina this summer was money well spent and a much better buy than the new chairs I was considering. I think the New York Times is right. Spending on experiences, particularly travel experiences, does make you happier.