Experiences Over Things | 11 Reasons You Should Choose to Have Amazing Experiences Over Stuff

As you would expect, we here at Bucket List HQ think that experiences are pretty fantastic and we believe wholeheartedly that you’re much more likely to remember experiencing zero gravity or seeing the Midnight Sun than you are a fancy watch you bought as a teenager or a mobile phone that was inevitably outdated just a couple of years later.

However, we also understand that material possessions can be pretty alluring so we’ve put together some of our thoughts as well as a little bit of science as to why you should choose experiences over things.

1. Experiences Bring More Joy

sky divers having a great experience
Dr Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been studying money and happiness for over 20 years and found that experiences bring us more joy than physical objects. There are various reasons for this, but the main one is that we are naturally inclined to adapt to situations as if they are the new normal, and when this happens, what was once novel and exciting now seems familiar and somewhat boring. We then raise the bar and want for something even newer, leading to an endless cycle of desire.

Gilovich found that even though experiences hypothetically last for less time than a physical object, they deliver longer-lasting happiness, as reminiscing about the experience brings us joy over and over again.

These experiences don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming either, so simply choose whatever works for you. Experiences can include anything from visiting new places in and around your local area, trying new food and activities, or, if you want to push the boat out, exploring far-flung destinations which feel worlds apart from our own lives.

2. Broadens Your Horizons

experiencing new cultures
Not only do experiences bring more joy into our lives, but they also help us broaden our horizons. Interacting with people from different countries and cultures to our own gives us a sense of perspective; remembering that the whole world doesn’t centre around us and our home countries.

There is so much to learn from different communities, whether that be new cuisines, language and ideas, moral, religious or environmental values or simply new ways of looking at the world.

While the internet connects us to a whole host of different cultures and communities online, there is something special about meeting people in real life and hearing their stories first-hand. In addition, there is only so much sensual satisfaction that the online world can bring, and it’s never quite the same as smelling a freshly-cooked curry in front of you, hearing the sound of wildlife in the trees above your head or feeling the warmth of the sand beneath your toes!

3. Memories Last a Lifetime | Things Don't

hot air ballooning - this beats a garage full of suff
hot air balloons flying over the valley at Cappadocia, Turkey

Another benefit of experiences over things is that memories last for a lifetime. While it may seem, on first glance that a physical object will last much longer than, say, a week’s holiday, the truth is that the memories of the holiday will stay with you forever which cannot be said for the latest iPhone or handbag!

While the level of happiness is around about the same for material and experiential purchases at the time of receipt, that happiness is actually thought to go down over time for physical items and up over time for experiences.

You’re also much more likely to want to tell the grandkids all about your time camping under the stars or riding in a hot air balloon than you are about an expensive pair of jeans you bought one time!

4. We Are a Sum of Our Experiences

climbing a rock face

As well as broadening our horizons and forming memories, travel experiences also help to shape our identity. It is thought that we are essentially a sum of our experiences, with the values, ideas and experiences we encounter becoming building blocks for our inner selves. While we may feel as though material possessions help to make up who we are, it is in fact experiences that have a much greater impact on our identity.

We are able to find emotions like compassion, joy, confidence and a sense of adventure while traveling and enjoying new experiences that we would be unable to find from something ordered online or bought in a store.

So, next time your questioning your identity or wondering what it is that you really like and enjoy, why not try a bucket list experience instead of seeking out a quick fix by shopping online?

5. There Isn't the Stress of Ownership

The capitalist society we have come to know in the West is wholly centered around purchasing products that we believe will make us feel better but which inevitably get boring and eventually thrown in the trash. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Millennials and the generations below them have started to question the status quo about ownership and have started changing the game when it comes to buying stuff.

Rather than believing everything they read about products making us happy, Millennials have looked at the changing world around them and realized that ownership is perhaps a thing of the past. Companies like Amazon, Uber and Airbnb prove that ownership is not necessary in the 21st Century and that if you can work, make a profit or have an experience without ownership (and the anxiety that comes with it) then perhaps that’s a much better idea!

Often times we work hard to save money to make an expensive purchase and then spend more of our time worrying that the purchase, for example, a car, is going to get scratched, broken into or stolen than we do truly enjoying the product itself!

Experiences, while they may come with their own possibility for anxiety, generally allow us enjoyment rather than fear. Even if you do have nervous moments while on the road, you’re much more likely to remember the times partying under the full moon or swimming with whale sharks than you are the time you were scammed out of a few dollars or got a slight case of Delhi Belly!

6. Less Impact on the Environment

rubbish on the beach
While some travel experiences do have a negative impact on the environment (think: flight emissions, all-inclusive resorts and irresponsible wildlife interactions), on the whole, experiences tend to have less of an effect on the planet than physical items that often end up in landfill.

Many products that we crave are mass-produced, non-recyclable and only bring us temporary pleasure. Experiences, on the other hand, can include anything from learning a new sport or hobby or taking a picnic in the park, to swimming in the sea or climbing a mountain. These experiences, if planned consciously, can, therefore, be ways or receiving great enjoyment while also treading lightly on the earth.

With the climate crisis at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it’s time to start questioning how much we actually need to buy and to prioritise experiences of a lifetime over ephemeral things.

7. Better Work/Life Balance

Work Life Balance mind map
If you focus your reason for earning money on experiences instead of things, you’re more likely to be inspired to jump out of bed to get to work knowing that you’re saving up for a trip of a lifetime rather than a new dress. Plus, having a memorable experience allows you to truly switch off from work and enjoy the moment knowing that you have earnt it.

Alternatively, you could take the work/life balance one step further and embark on a Digital Nomad-type career, taking your work with you on the road. This lifestyle allows you to work remotely from wherever you are in the world, meaning that you can spend your morning working from a chic café and your afternoon exploring new cultures or lounging on palm-fringed beaches! If you can make the balance work for you, this can be one of the most rewarding experiences of all, and because you’re earning money while on the road there’s no reason to have to stop!

8. Less Clutter

more things more mess

As much as material possessions are alluring and give us a boost of endorphins when we buy them, most physical objects eventually become uninspiring or obsolete. When this happens, they are often put away in a cupboard, loft or basement to gather dust. These things then take up space literally in our homes and metaphorically in our minds until they feel like excess baggage weighing us down.

Conversely, experiences don’t have to come with any clutter and can leave our homes and minds free to grow and evolve. If we do make physical purchases while traveling, these are usually small souvenirs that hold a special place in our hearts and help to take us back to happy times each time we look at them. As such, they are worth having, but it is important to remember that it is actually the experience and not the thing that is bringing us joy.

9. Possessions Foster Comparison


This point can be somewhat debatable as we all know a person who is quick to ‘one-up’ you each time you’re talking about a recent trip or experience. However, science suggests that on the whole, physical possessions foster more comparison with others than experiences, which tends to lead to anxiety or annoyance. Ryan T. Howell and Graham Hill found that ‘it is easier to feature-compare material goods than experiences’.

Each experience is wholly unique, with the location, company and activities meaning that your trip is never going to be quite the same as anyone else’s. This, therefore, means that we can discuss and compare trips and experiences with friends and family. Still, there is likely to be less of a focus on better/worse than there would be if you were comparing specifications of a material item.

10. Anticipation Adds to the Enjoyment

counting down the days to your experience
Another feature of experiences that makes them exciting and worthwhile is the anticipation of planning and waiting for it to occur. Again, this has been studied by Gilovich, who found that anticipation of experiences causes excitement while anticipation of obtaining a material possession causes impatience!

Researching destinations, finding hotels, planning activities and packing your suitcase can all play a part in building the anticipation and joy of an experience.

It can also be a great way of getting the kids involved as you can sit down with them in the summer holidays and plan some thrilling adventures to take over the coming weeks. Creating a Summer Bucket List allows all the family to build anticipation about spending time in nature, learning new skills and enjoying adventures together.

11. Experiences Build Connection

sharing an experience
Last but by no means least is the idea that experiences help to build connections that have much greater meaning in our lives than material possessions do. Whether it’s creating memories with loved ones or meeting new life-long friends, experiences give you the chance to connect, talk and share a common purpose. Everything from joining a sports team or making new friends in a hostel, to taking your mum away to a spa for a weekend or going for a walk with your other half work to build memories that you’ll never forget.

So, there you have it, the science (plus a slightly biased viewpoint) as to why we should all start choosing experiences over things. Bucket list experiences allow you to be enthralled, inspired, challenged and charmed by new places, people, food, cultures and activities.

Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Millennials’ book and spend more money on experiences than things.

What experiences have you got planned for this year and the next? Do you prefer experiences or things? We’d love to hear from you so let us know what you think in the comments below!

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