The term “retail therapy” was coined for a reason. It is the notion that when we are feeling down or just need a pick me up, that a trip to the shopping mall is sure to make us feel better. And we do feel better – for a brief period of time. Having those shiny new shoes or that new outfit feels great the first time you wear them out. But it doesn’t take long before the feeling wears off and all you are left with is more stuff to take up your limited space and another expense to pay off on your credit card. We are adaptable creatures and it doesn’t take long before the things we buy become plain old stuff. There’s got to be a better way to feel joy, right?

Bring on the experiences!

Research has shown over and over again that hands down experiences will bring us more happiness than stuff we purchase. Try it yourself. Think of a purchase you made with the goal of increasing your own happiness. First think about a material item, something tangible that you could keep. Maybe it was a piece of jewelry, some clothing or an electronic device that you were sure would bring you joy. Now think about a time when you spent money on an experience. Perhaps it was a trip, or tickets to that musical you just had to see or even going out for a nice meal. Which of these purchases made you happier? And with which of these purchases did this happiness last the longest?

With experiences, even when they don’t turn out quite how we expect them to, we take the memories of them with us for weeks, months and sometimes years to come. Remembering these times reminds us of the people we spent them with and the sights, sounds and smells we encountered during the experience. It is this connection to others that plays a large role in the reasons why experiences provide more happiness than stuff.

You don’t have to break the bank

It’s true, you can spend a lot of money on experiences. Think about the people willing to pay $200,000 for six minutes in space with Virgin Galactic. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Studies show that even when people spend only a few dollars, they get more lasting pleasure from buying an experience than from buying a trinket like that new picture frame or kitchen gadget that caught your eye. It could be going for a hike with a friend, putting on some great music and having a dance party or going to a local park. So the next time you’re feeling like you need a little “retail therapy”, instead save that money for something on your bucket list of experiences and go visit some friends or catch a movie instead!

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