Tonight I’m heading out to watch Prince play at a small 1,100 seat theater. I’m over-the-moon-ecstatic about the singing, dancing and happiness that’s sure to ensue.
Unfortunately, grooving to Prince doesn’t come cheap. When I told people I was going to the concert, I received one of two reactions: “Whoa, that’s expensive” or “Whoa, you love Prince, that’s going to be awesome.”
I nodded my head to both reactions because I understand that Prince isn’t awesome to everyone but that he is awesome to me.
It’s a somewhat pricey experience, but one that will undoubtedly raise my happiness quotient.
I didn’t always think that way.
Historically, when faced with a choice between something cheap and something expensive, I would unfailingly veer towards the middle, thinking that a compromise was better than under or over-indulging.
I would go shopping and think, “Yes, four pairs of sale jeans and three new pairs of shoes, score!”
In reality, those middling purchases added up. I was spending on a bunch of stuff I would wear a few times instead of on one thing I absolutely loved and would wear all the time or, better yet, on an experience that would stay with me long after the initial purchase.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to realize that some expensive things are very worth it. And I’ve learned to better appreciate things that don’t cost a penny. It’s generally on middle-of-the-road material stuff that I regret spending money.
A coffee table has never left me with lasting happiness. A trip to Paris? Yes and yes.
That’s because when faced with the decision between buying an expensive material item or spending cash on an experience, studies say experience, all the way:
“The initial joy of acquiring a new object, such as a new car, fades over time as people become accustomed to seeing it every day […] Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred.”
Which might explain why most free stuff rocks. You’re not likely to get a free car, but free experiences are everywhere.
A few of my favorite free things:
And some expensive investments that were totally worth it:
-Plane tickets to Europe, South Africa, and Egypt, including a ticket to Rome, where I met my husband
-Snorkeling trips, piano lessons, creative writing classes, lift tickets
-An iMac, which allows me to write, photoshop and connect with the people I love without making me crazy (which cheaper PCs historically did not)
-A university education: four years where I grew hugely as a person, learned to think critically and creatively, and met an amazing group of people that I’m still friends with to this day
I’m incredibly lucky to have had access to these things. “Expensive” is a relative term that has different meanings to different people. But within each individual definition, there’s room to think about how we spend our money, what we do with what we have and where we find value.
57% of Americans don’t use up all of their vacation time. Which means they aren’t spending money on experiences. And yet malls continue to thrive, credit cards fill up with purchases like big screen TV’s and home renovations and fancy cars. We forgo the big reward for a string of smaller gratifications. What gives?
Thinking about my list, I realize that material objects are worthwhile insomuch as they allow me to create or connect. I love my computer because of what I can do with it. Ditto for my camera. But almost all of the other things I treasure have been experiences.
When all is said and done:
I am not my couch or my iPhone or my J. Crew cardigan.
I am the sum of my experiences, my encounters and my conversations.
I am not my engagement ring or my apartment.
I am a partner in a loving marriage and an expat exploring a new country.
It’s tough to keep perspective. Sometimes I want what other’s have. Sometimes I want shiny things that I know won’t make me any happier. In those moments, it’s hard not to click “Buy.”
But then I have a moment of clarity and realize that I don’t actually want another pair of shoes.
What I really want is to go to a Prince concert and party like it’s 1999.
What about you? Which “purchases” have brought you lasting happiness? Were they moderately priced, expensive or free?