We humans are simple creatures. We live for the “buzz” – that warm feeling we get from buying a shiny new toy, or that sparkly thing we’ve always wanted. Scientists call it a shopping high, but it’s really just a chemical reaction in our brains that’s not much different to rewarding our pet pooch with a tasty treat every time he sits. It’s the dopamine rush that makes it feel so good. But, you may ask, isn’t that what it’s all about? I work hard to save money for the things that bring me pleasure. I deserve to reward myself, don’t I?
Far be it for us to suggest that you don’t spend your bsmart cashback bonus on a new dress, or a set of fancy rims for your car. If that’s what makes you happy, go for it. But here’s something worth considering. A growing body of research is proving that, when it comes to long-term happiness, experiences beat things time after time.
The dopamine effect: how we’re wired for reward
To understand why we keep coming back for more, let’s take a quick look at how dopamine works.
“In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behaviour. The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain…”
Sounds simple, right? We get something we want and this makes us feel happy. But it’s not really like that. Dopamine is released more when we get something unexpected. When we get exactly what we want, we do feel good, but it only lasts for a relatively short time. Repeating the same thing leads to less and less dopamine being released, so we need to do more and more of it to get the same “high”. The key word here is UNEXPECTED. The more surprising the experience, the more rewarding it will be – and the more we will appreciate it in the long run. There’s an interesting article here that goes into more depth if you’d like to know more.
So what does all this have to do with investing in experiences rather than things?
The value of creating memories
Psychological research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions. This is because the initial joy of acquiring something you want, like a new pair of sneakers, fades over time. Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred.
Over the past few decades, a lot of research has gone into understanding what makes people truly happy. What has emerged is that this generation is increasingly spending their money on experiences – from social events to live shows, concerts, cultural experiences and travel.
Experiences provide us with endless surprises – and that’s exactly what our dopamine-loving brains appreciate most. It’s no wonder then that, since 1987, in the US at least, the amount of money that people are spending on live experiences and events has increased by a whopping 70%.
According to this Forbes article “More than three in four millennials would choose to spend money on an experience or event over buying something desirable. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they believe attending live experiences helps them connect better with their friends, their community and people around the world.”
Furthermore, this study reaches the conclusion that “Life experiences become part of who we are. They are woven into our memories, shape our identity, and are generally not replaceable or upgradeable. It comes as little surprise, then, that past work has shown that experiential purchases increase feelings of happiness… Our results demonstrate that individuals who are less materialistic are happier, likely in part, because of how they spend their discretionary income.”
Still not convinced? Take it from those who’ve been there
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their last thoughts (and regrets) in a book, remarking on the “phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom”. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
Chief amongst these was “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Many regret not fulfilling the dreams they had – the kinds of dreams that make lasting memories.
What’s more, they wish they had lived more in the moment, taken more risks, spent more time with those they love, and travelled more. None of them say that they wish they had owned more stuff.
It’s a valuable lesson for all of us, and we’d be wise to take heed, take a step back, and maybe reconsider what value for money really means.
Time to start ticking off that list
If you don’t have a bucket list, maybe that’s a good place to start. Be sure to put experiences first and material things last. Then, one by one, just do it. Because you’re sure to find that the happiness you gain will be worth every cent. And the memories you make will be, quite simply, priceless.
At bsmart, we put the power back in the hands of our members, by paying out cashback bonuses every year. You can spend your cashback bonus any way you want to, at over 10 000 stores nationwide. Still not sure how to spend your bonus? We have even more savvy suggestions here.
Disclaimer: bsmart does not provide financial advice. The above article is for information purposes only, to share current economic and financial topics and trends. Please consult a suitable and qualified financial services provider if you require financial advice.