Deep Thoughts Thursday: The Value of Experiences vs. Things

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Recently, an article blew up on Facebook. I think I saw it 10 times over the course of a week. It was from Fast Company, and it is called, “The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things”. This really intrigued me. One of the main reasons is because I am interested in the differences between generations, and how those differences manifest in how we live our lives. I feel like this article was made specifically for Millennials. It is not that no other generation cares about experiences, it is just that my generation seems to be one of the first that is separated enough from the Great Depression where we are privileged to be able show affluence in experiences, rather than things.

For people that lived through the Great Depression, finally being able to own things mattered. Being able to finally get a new car or not feel guilty for buying a new dress meant a lot. With each generation since then, this “things vs. experiences” balance has shifted slowly towards favoring experiences. Of course, there is quite a bit of generalization that goes on when talking about generations, because there are people who do not fit in with their generation, and there are exceptions to every rule and generalization that can be made. I, for example, do not fit in well with Millennials. It might be that I am on the older end of the spectrum. However, generally speaking, the Greatest Generation put a lot of focus on “things”, because it was a sign that the economy was better, and they no longer had to go without. Baby Boomers did not live through the Depression, but being the product of people who did, they too placed value on things, and it was a sign of affluence, or, as it is put in the article, that their basic needs were met. For Generation X, experiences and things seem to matter about equally. Being able to spend a week in Europe holds similar value to being able to drive to work in a Lexus.

I can’t say whether this article is right or wrong, I think it really all depends on the person. One issue I have with this article, though, is that it makes it seem like if you place value on things, you’re not really living. And, your happiness is going to fade. It would be so much better if everyone could see the light and just go on more trips, everyone would always be happier. That might be pushing it further than what was intended, but I do think that there needs to be some discussion on the other side of this argument. I, for example, don’t really like to travel. I have never been on a plane (not that I think that’s the way to live, and I plan on flying somewhere someday). I am extremely introverted, and sometimes simply being in public is draining on me. If I am in a place that is very crowded, I am not going to find much value in that experience. People with social anxiety don’t really find much value in social situations, because they are so stressful. There are things that I own, however, that mean quite a bit to me. My wedding ring goes without saying. Another is the car my husband and I share, since it is the newest car either of us have ever owned. Heirlooms that have been passed down to us. Some of these things are replaceable (we will get a new car someday, and if I lost my wedding ring, I could find another one that I loved), and some aren’t, like heirlooms. Experiences can’t be heirlooms. If my husband and I went backpacking around Europe for a month, we would not be able to pass that down to our children. We could give them photos, but it is an experience that only he and I would share. Once we are no longer alive, that experience is gone as well. That is not to say that experiences mean nothing, but leaving things for our kids, grandkids and future generations to remember us by is way more important to me. I don’t feel the need to fill my living space with things that are worthless, but having nice things that we can pass down is not at all meaningless.

We do live in a society that is way too concerned about materialism, I will give the article that. My husband and I definitely want to keep the amount of things we own to a minimum, if for no other reason than moving is much easier when there isn’t much to pack. But, I also don’t want to live in an empty home, and I like being able to come home to my nice computer and tv, and have my nice phone. I think it comes down to balance, something which is tough for anyone to find. There are some things that I own that were once more exciting to me than they are now, since I have adapted to them, but there are so many things that make me smile. Seeing my wedding dress in my closet always makes me happy, because it was the perfect wedding dress for me, and I wore it on one of the happiest days of my life.

Another point made in this article that I don’t really agree with is the idea that people will feature compare goods (phones, cars, etc), but not experiences. I know this is not true. When my husband and I got married, we decided to go as frugal as we could, while still having a wedding and reception, and having something we could be proud of (this is definitely a topic I will write about more in the future). We did not want to start married life in debt, and I did not have a very good job at the time. We are not wealthy, and neither are our families. Included in our plan was the notion that we didn’t have to hop on a plane to some exotic location to have a wonderful honeymoon. So, we drove 45 minutes out of the city to a quaint town, where we antiqued, visited a vineyard, and walked around for a few days, enjoying each other’s company. We came home with money left over. We had a great time, and I love that we chose that for ourselves. There have been people, however, when I tell them where we went on our honeymoon, they essentially scoff, because it was so… cheap. We didn’t go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and it seems like they almost find it pathetic. I love hearing about other people’s trips and honeymoons to exotic places, and I am so happy for them that they got to have a great experience, but I don’t think it means that my simple, local honeymoon had less value. I definitely don’t think it’s true that people don’t compare the experiences they have had with others.

I hope that I am able to strike the perfect balance between these things. I think being able to see the world is amazing, and I hope I get to. I also hope, however, that I am able to own things that make me happy without succumbing to excess and materialism.

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