Life experiences make your happier, not material things

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In my mid-twenties, I distinctly remember a conversation with my mother. Someone at church wanted me to speak with their daughter who was in college struggling a little bit. At this age, I had already reached a certain level of success that it seems people thought was novel. I had my own thriving business (still do), traveled anywhere I wanted, afforded a lofty home with no mortgage and gave a lot to others in need (in secret). I was (am) not suffering by any stretch of the imagination. For me, I was just “doing me”… just a plain Jane or so I thought.

The part of the conversation that most caught my attention is when my mother said, “from their viewpoint, you make life seem really easy.” I was floored, almost offended, but then my mother gave me a quick step back, “to be fair, your walk seems so easy because you do not think about it too much. You’ve always seemed to walk on pure faith backed by skill. You are systematic so people do not see what you put into something before you make it public.” Okay, that made sense to me. People do not see me toil. I do not open my mouth unless I am certain of something. I am not much a BS’er. I am a straight shooter. I got it.

Life full of experiences, not things
Experiences are possible. geralt / Pixabay

From that conversation, I began to pay more attention to perception. Exactly what people perceived when they saw me, met me, got to know me. I had never even paid attention prior to that. Maybe I am too aloof, I digress, but I wanted to understand why my life seemed “too easy” to outsiders. Yet to me, I realized my brain never shuts down. I am always producing, thinking, creating, designing, and I love every minute of it. One of the things I noticed about me and others around me: I focused on experiences, they focused on things. I focused on generating ideas, they focused on earning a paycheck. They focused on shopping and hanging out, I focused on where my next trip was going to be. Each conversation I had with individuals it seems the topic of money was the center of their world… I don’t care to talk about money. I give money no power. Money is just a tool for me.

life experiences are possible
experience life. Hans / Pixabay

All in all, I realized that I would hear people complain about what they could not do or could not afford, but I realized if I were making exactly what they were making I would still be able to experience many of the things I was experiencing at the time. I was making a different choice with my life. A life choice that revolved around experiences that made me grow, enlightened me, made me smile and gave me a lot of memories to store in my head that may someday become a jumbled mess… but they will still be there.

Almost two decades later, I still pay close attention to perception as a personal interest, not guide. Summer time is fast approaching, so I like to discuss places people summer. I mean who wouldn’t want a month in paradise, right? At some point, someone is going to make reference to finances, wishing they had such and such lifestyle. And usually a laundry list follows as to why getting away just is not possible for their family. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule:

  • If you are a civil servant, surgeon, emergency room doctor, minister, caring for the sick and shut in or anyone who serves the public in general, the likelihood of you leaving for an extended period of time is slim.
  • If you have been succumb to extensive medical bills, student loans or legal bills, then the likelihood of you traveling extensively is slim.

However, experiences do not always have to involve travel and experiences, honestly, do not always involve money. Be creative. However, for the rest of you, living in middle class America, it’s just a matter of making different choices. Seriously. A study completed at San Francisco State University concluded that “People actually do know, and accurately predict, that life experiences will make them happier,” San Francisco State University psychologist Ryan Howell, said in a statement. “What they really underestimate is how much monetary value they will get out of a life experience. Even though they’re told experiences will make them happier and they know experiences will make them happier, they still perceive material items as being a better value.”

Hence, from this statement, is what I have been witnessing the last 20 years since I began observing people more closely: It boils down to choice. People make life harder than necessary. I always think, “we can swap laundry list.”, but that wouldn’t be nice to say out loud. I live deeply and not on the surface. I derive my happiness from the Lord above and do not place it on any single individual or thing. Hence, naturally I gravitate toward experiences. Over the years, I’ve noticed a few things I do not regularly do that others I’ve witness complain about not being able to do something spend their time doing:

  1. No daily cup of Starbucks, diet soda or whatever drink of choice for me.
  2. No regular trips to shop whether it be Target or Neimans or the thrift shop. I’ve never been much of a shopper. I buy when I have some place to go.
  3. I never have had a car payment for more than 12 months. And that was only one time. I buy what I can afford. So when that was a Honda Accord, I bought a Honda Accord. When it was something more lavish, I bought something more lavish.
  4. I do not “hang out” regularly. I notice when I do hang out, people spend a lot of money on drinks.
  5. Speaking of drinks, I am not much of a drinker. I don’t buy alcohol for my home either. I have been given bottles of wine on the other hand. I like to have all of my faculties in order. Yes, it’s a control thing.
  6. I do not have a house full of things. I like wide open space. Hence, you will not find a bunch of knick-knacks around my home.
  7. I rarely wear makeup. I do take excellent care of my skin though. Boy, I learned how much ladies spend on makeup annually. I do not care if it is CVS makeup, that is several experiences for me. The makeup I do have is quality makeup, yet I do not apply it everyday. And, I definitely do not wear it when I workout. Hello! I love my skin and how it stays fresh and young looking.
  8. I buy classic, not trendy. Hence, my stuff tends not to go out of “style”. I have no desire to keep up with the Jones’ or the Kardashians or anyone that matter.

For people who have only met me in the last few years, they may have the perception I care to leave, ‘plain Jane’. However, for those who have known me for years, I usually hear:

  • You have several homes.
  • Your cars are very nice.
  • You have designer clothes and shoes.
  • Your hair and makeup always look nice. Um, no it doesn’t.

Here is the difference, I do not spend money I do not have or buy on credit. It is all relevant to my goals. I reward based on earnings. Sometimes it is a material item because there is not anything wrong with things. It is just my focus is not on things. The things do not make me happy. The life experiences do. I give away many of my things without a second thought. They matter not. The house, the car, the clothes, none of it matters. Experiencing life gives my creative outlet a huge boost. And it could yours too. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, Psychology Professor at Columbia University, who has been studying the link between happiness and money for nearly two decades, discusses in a Fast Company interview:

Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.

I could not agree more. As I mentioned above, experiences, especially traveling explodes my creative juices. It incredibly increases my productivity both personally and professionally. However, I must make a distinction, and another Columbia professor, from the business school this time, Adam Galinsky, the author of several studies on creativity and international travel, puts it best:

“The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

This flows into my current discussion on Raising Global Children. It is not about the money folks, it is about the experience. Galinsky goes on to say, “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity.”

Perhaps that is why is it so difficult for me to hold a grudge. I move onto other experiences and the negative issues that arise in life are forced to take a backseat to newer, more positive experiences. Life is truly about the sum of your experiences.

How will you adapt more experiences and less things in your life? Click To Tweet

How will you adapt more experiences into you life? It does not have to cost a money. Be creative.
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Maria writes as well as handle guest post articles for Abundant Journeys blog. Abundant Journeys, an independent travel agency affiliated with MTravel CST# California: 1018299-10, blogs about wellness travel for the discerning travelier in three different life stages: Couples, Travel with Kids and Girlfriend Getaways focusing on Moms. We also enjoy blogging about fine foods and great gifts. Live Life. Must Travel. Start your journey today. Find our stories on JustLuxe.com in the travel section.

18 Comments
  1. I want to say we follow this, but I know we don’t We follow for the most part? I do buy my cosmetics from the grocery store & do my hair myself. We eat at home often, but not enough. I have taught my son to be a saver. We both listen to Dave Ramsey lots and follow lots of his rules. I am happy you posted this & I have shared on my social pages. Lots of love, Lisa / Princess Mousey

  2. How true that each person needs to choose priorities for themselves, and work towards those priorities! Also, thanks for pointing out that certain life situations or even careers make picking up and taking off on long-haul adventures a little difficult. My husband worked as a nurse in the USA, and his hospital’s policy was such that you had to apply for vacation time 6 months in advance, and it didn’t matter how much you had accrued, you were only able to take a maximum of 2 weeks off any time. Hospital nursing isn’t a job built for those who want to travel the world constantly, but it is a very needed and very practical job, and we were able to “adventure” and “experience” all there was to do locally, without having to go very far or spend lots of money. Now my husband and I both have different jobs and are working and learning in China–during the Spring Festival we both had 6 weeks off of work, which was a crazy long time. I wouldn’t say travel is a huge priority for me personally, just due to my own priorities and personality, but I really enjoy our life and work in China and I’m so glad we made the move overseas.
    Rachel G recently posted…Life Itself Demands CelebrationMy Profile

    1. Rachel, how rewarding is that experience… your work in China. That is wonderful. I can imagine it probably felt like such a long time in a new land, but it sounds like you walked away with fond memories.

  3. As someone who has faced her mortality several times. I have found that in those moments when you realize you could be taking your last breath. it isn’t the material items you remember the most but the time spent with ones you love. You think to yourself if only I had a bigger house but rather I wish i had more time with whomever it is that means something to you. People and life matter not material things.
    becca recently posted…Friday Book Club: Prisoners of Love by Judith Katz #BookReviewMy Profile

  4. This is very, very true. We got into the habit of just owning too much stuff. Now I’m trying to cut way back. We do have lots of medical bills from having our second son prematurely, but we try and get out and experience new things that are free. There are usually excellent event pages for most cities so you can find free things to do all the time (and I really do mean that they are available year-round, even in Alaska).
    Stacey recently posted…The Mann Leiser Memorial GreenhouseMy Profile

    1. Definitely been there, Stacey. It feels so refreshing to unload things too. Especially when you see it go to someone who could really use it. When you aren’t tied to so many things, you are more free to experience life.

  5. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! I agree 1000% about life experiences making us happier than ‘things’. It’s really important to connect with ourselves and those closest to us. I like to say, what other people think of us is none of our business. Having a healthy relationship with money and ourselves is really important.
    Tandy Elisala recently posted…Is Positivity Feeding Your Fears?My Profile

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