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Spend on experiences not on material goods

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"Science tells us to focus our discretionary spending on experiences such as travel over material goods."

That's a quote from the Cornell University pshychological study by Dr Thomas Gilovich. In case you haven't seen it, the basic premise of the study is that things deliver much less pleasure over the long term than do experiences.

When we acquire something, we derive great pleasure from it in the immediate term but it takes us remarkably little time to become accustomed to the new possession, a point at which it provides little or no actual pleasure or sense of wellbeing. In due course, I suspect that this tends towards active displeasure as an object becomes outmoded or unfashionable.

Whatever our particular acquisitional weakness, the pleasure curve of things, stuff, is pretty much like an inverted letter J. A quick boost quickly sliding back to indifference, possibly followed by active dislike. The accumulation of experiences is completely different because we value experiences increasingly highly over the long term.

If you think about it, even a bad holiday often becomes pleasurable after some time as we dine out on the tales of the dreadful staff or the constant rain. I'm sure all of you have some experience that felt dreadful at the time but now entertains all and sundry. If that's what a bad holiday does, think what a good one can do.

So I thought I would test out the hypothesis.

I started by asking my wife to tell me something she bought 20 years ago. She thought a while, tried to piece together where she was and what she might therefore have bought.

"I could probably tell you something but it might take a while."

I then asked her to tell me something she did 20 years ago:

"Easy, I was in New York, saw a Picasso exhibition, moved to Lima."

She was able to tell me, with remarkable clarity, straight off the cuff, the things she had done, experiences.

Ask me to tell you what I bought 20 years ago and you'll get a blank face. Ask me what I did 20 years ago and I'll bore you to tears with excited tales of Puma tracking, Patagonia sunrises, opening a cafe in Mexico, mountain biking to the edge of a canyon, singing songs on the flat bed truck of a freight train in the Copper Canyon.

David in the office thought a long while, finally coming up with:

"I bought my first digital camera."

When I asked about something he did 20 years ago, he knew instantly:

"I moved to Andalucía, that's why I bought the digital camera."

So even the few things that are memorable only exist in our memories as a function of the experiences they facilitated or contributed to.

Try it yourself. I'd love to hear what you come up with.

Wouldn't it be nice to think that we park our short-term materialism and start applying a longer-term definition of value when making our buying decisions. God knows, we need to stop producing needless landfill, maybe what we need is a subtle shift from buying things to investing in experiences.

Of course, there is far more to be discussed about this subject. There's another study on the Price of Abundance, the loss of appreciation which happens when we gorge ourselves on experiences. I personally think that there is much of travel which is commoditised, tick box tourism which is more aptly conceived of as a material item. It's easy to spot tick box tourists nowadays, they are the ones at the end of a selfie stick.

True experiences in travel derive from all sorts of unexpected things, often simpler, stiller moments. It's all too easy to over-polish our holidays, I prefer mine with a patina. Those are the ones that stay clearly for the longest time.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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