Last Updated on November 20, 2023 by AIFS Abroad
“Money can’t buy happiness,” the line goes. Of course, when the rent’s due, it’s easy to forget this. But a 20-year study by Cornell University professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich is here to remind us that investing in experiences — like studying or interning abroad, for example — over things is how to achieve happiness.
Here’s why a Cornell University professor says experiences buy you happiness, not things:
1. Adaptation isn’t happiness
As Dr. Gilovich put it, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
The classic example is when you buy a new phone. You buy it to make yourself happy whether that’s because the camera is better, because there are new features, or all your friends have it, and you want to have what your friends have. But what happens in a year or so? The new version of your phone comes out and your phone looks suddenly out of date. New purchases only lead to new expectations and not true happiness.
Experiences on the other hand never fade into the mundane. Enduring happiness comes from breaking out of our everyday routine, trying something new and traveling around the world.
2. We’re a sum of our experiences
They say experiences are fleeting, but Dr. Gilovich doesn’t agree. He believes those experiences become part of you. Your identity is not defined by your possessions, but is an accumulation of the places you’ve been, lessons you’ve learned and the experiences you’ve had.
The professor found that people don’t regret not buying something but do regret missing an experience. You can always buy things you want later, but you can’t duplicate a trip you never went on or the stories that you could have told.
3. Invest in purpose and passions, not possessions
It’s difficult to have an answer to the question, “What should I do with my life?” But it certainly isn’t “Tesla” or “iPhone.” Following your passions gets you closer to the answer. You should find any and every experience which lets you explore those passions. If your passion is language, for example, maybe do an internship in Barcelona, Spain, where you can see how the languages of Catalan and Spanish interact with each other. These are the types of experiences that will help you find your purpose and shape your life.
4. The anticipation of uncertainty
What’s great about choosing something to buy is that nothing is uncertain. You pay, you get the thing. Choosing an experience does come with a degree of uncertainty — “what’s going to happen to me during this experience?” Gilovich believes that the risk is almost always worth it.
Memories and stories only get better over time. You’ll cherish experiences from the moment you start planning them to the second it’s over.
5. Possessions don’t connect us
Gilovich said, “We consume experiences directly with other people and after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”
Experiences are social, which makes them worth so much more than any object. Objects are inherently independent, a one-way track — you own the thing, it is owned by you. Experiences can be shared with family, friends, and fellow interns, making them so much more valuable. Even after the moment passes, you’re still left with a story to tell. And things don’t make stories!
“Turns out people don’t like hearing about other people’s possessions very much, but they do like hearing about that time you saw Vampire Weekend,” said Cornell doctoral candidate Amit Kumar.
Sharing our experiences and stories allows us to bond with others in a deep, meaningful way.
Want to have the experience of a lifetime, with stories that you’ll tell forever? Intern or study abroad with AIFS Abroad!
Make your next investment a global education experience with AIFS Abroad’s study abroad and international internship programs. We have a variety of destinations and fields, so you’ll undoubtedly find one that is perfect for both your academic or career goals and life aspirations.