One of the most popular psychological studies is the study of happiness. Thousands of renowned intellectuals have been thoroughly studying this subject for decades. Also known as Hedonists, these people that study the pursuit of happiness have thought of some very valid points. Happiness ranges from comparing the potential happiness between two completely different organisms and specifically finding the solution to happiness for one certain person. The topic that will be discussed in this synthesis is simply the question “What makes an individual in today’s society happy?” This question will be answered simply by comparing experiential happiness and materialistic happiness. Or is it so simple?
When someone says that money does not buy happiness, they are wrong. Studies show that the direct relationship between money and happiness is blatantly clear. Although, yes, money does buy happiness, it does not buy as much as one might think. It is true that, to a degree, the more money a person has, the more they can afford to make themselves happy. For example, wealthier people can afford better nutrition, medical care, as well as more leisure time with people they love. This is not even including all the more material items a wealthier individual could obtain, but that will be mentioned later. Knowing that this is true, is there a cap on how much money can make someone happy? Or is it simply the wealthier someone is, the happier they are? To save the suspense, there actually is a limit on the correlation between wealth and happiness.
Research shows that a yearly wage of 75,000 dollars or more is all the same. In other words, someone that makes 75,000 dollars a year has the same happiness potential as someone that makes 20 million. One might not agree with this thinking “the more money someone has the more they can buy, therefore more happiness.” It sounds that simple but, sadly like everything else in the world, it is not. Relaying off the fact that there is a limit to how much happiness one can buy, this is supported by research results showing that most people buy their happiness the wrong way. “Research suggests that people are often happier when they spend their money on experiences rather than things.”  An example, of how someone could make this simple mistake, would be someone going out and purchasing a new car after they have had a bad break-up.
There is no doubt that a new car will temporarily make anyone happier. The catch is that the happy feeling does not last for very long, it eventually wears off. On the other hand, studies suggest that someone that buys a new experience for example goes bungee jumping or climbs a mountain is more likely to be happier for a longer time. Firstly, this is because an experience that one could buy is going to be different than the life that they are used to, automatically making it more fun. Second, in the future following the experience, the person’s thoughts of this experience will continue to result in happiness, compared to the new car that will only last for a certain amount of time, eventually wearing off. To support this study a sample of over a thousand Americans were tested on whether they were happier with material objects or experiences. 57 percent of the respondents reported that they were happier after their experiences versus a small 34 percent reporting that materials made them happier. (Obviously not the whole sample of Americans responded) Now that the facts have been reported, it is time to understand which path to happiness is the better of the two.
There is no debate that both experiences and materials make a person happy; but what makes experiences better than objects? The main reason why experiences are so much better is simply because people adapt to items so quickly in today’s society. Here is an example. Say someone spends hours in Nebraska Furniture Mart to finally find a nice new oak table for their kitchen. The first week or maybe even a month after owning this table, the person might take great pride in the new addition to the kitchen and clean it every day because it looks so nice and shiny. It is very doubtful that after a year of owning that table it will be kept as shiny as the first week it was owned. It will most likely be faded and have a few scratches; and the item that once made the person so happy will eventually just be a large piece of wood that the family eats off of. Substitute the oak table with any item, maybe a new car or a plasma TV that was once oh so popular.
Now it should be easier to understand why things do not make a person happier than an experience in the long run. “Did you have a happy childhood? Do you remember Christmas morning or your birthday, when you woke up and knew there were presents just for you waiting around the corner? Do you remember the lights on the tree or the candles glowing atop the birthday cake as your family and friends serenaded you? Did you feel happy? Let’s consider the presents themselves.
What did you get for, say, your eighth birthday? Don’t try to think too hard; in fact, you might find that the things that elevated you to the pinnacle of happiness at the age of 8 only created a fleeting pleasantness that faded within a short time. Actually, researchers have pinned down just how long material objects make us happy and it’s only between six and 12 weeks [source: Landau]. As much as you may have desired a certain toy, once you had it, you grew bored or accustomed to it, and the pleasure you derived from it faded.” The quote may be lengthy, but it does a great job explaining why experiences do a much better job of making someone happy compared to items. To reinforce the fact, think about the same experiences. Are memories of good times not often discussed multiple times in the future following the event? What results in these thoughts of wonderful past times? A great guess would be happiness. If it makes anyone feel better, it is guaranteed that the memory of a couple’s Valentine’s Day dinner will last much longer than the flowers and chocolate given to the spouse.
Some might argue that materials are a much better buy considering an expensive vacation obviously does not last near as long as a new car. Although the statement is true, the topic being discussed here is happiness, not bargains. Referring to the beginning of the synthesis, most of these examples would be demonstrated by people that can afford all of the things to maximize ones happiness, in other words, no one is keeping a close eye on their checkbook. Just because most of these examples are blown out of proportion to better clarify happiness at its full potential, does not mean that people who make only 45,000 dollars in a year cannot apply the same concept to themselves. Another example of why some ignoramuses decide to side with materialism is because the items last much longer than the experiences.
A good example would be a new phone. It is something that people use multiple times a day and lasts for quite a long time. How could going on a one day hiking trip possibly make someone happier when it only lasts a day compared to the nice new phone that lasts up to months? Yes, we have all gone through the experience of purchasing a new phone and being awed by all of the new features and applications. It is true that this will make any normal person quite happy for a period of time; but think five months down the road. Either that person could be reminiscing the great time he had with his or her friends at the top of the mountain, or the same person could be dreading the phone bill that has to have paid by the end of the week. All of the arguments supporting materialism have valid points that are true to a reasonable degree, but in the end they are no match for the facts that support experientialism.
All of the examples comparing materialism and experientialism are blatantly clear. If someone wants to achieve their maximum amount of happiness, putting a majority of efforts towards experiences is the way to go. This does not mean that someone should never go and buy a new car or needs to keep away from the furniture store because it is the wrong thing to do. It just means that if someone is trying to recover from a bad break up or just got laid off, maybe they should reconsider before they purchase that new flat screen TV. Find exciting events to attend with some friends. If someone is not deathly afraid of heights, why not go bungee jumping? That is a memory that would last a lifetime. To conclude the synthesis, after reading this, everyone should understand that in order to achieve maximum happiness stick to the good experiences in life and live a little.
- Dunn, Elizabeth; Gilbert, Daniel; and Wilson Timothy “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” Reading and Writing across the Curriculum.
- Ed. Sara Gordus. New Jersey: Pearson, 2013. 247-249. Print. Clark, Josh. “What makes people happier objects or experiences?” 04 June 2009. HowStuffWorks.com. 04 October 2013.