7 Healthy Reasons to Choose Experiences Over Things

Mar 10, 2023

Reading time: 7 Minutes

With finite time and money, we’re all forced to make choices in how we spend our resources. Will we choose to allocate our resources to material goods or to experiential events?


According to Forbes, 74% of Americans value experiences over things. But why? Doctors and scientists have been researching the value of experiences, and the findings may surprise and encourage you. Here are seven reasons that experiences should take precedence over things, especially in light of prioritizing your health.



1) You’ll be happier in the long run.

We all know that money can’t buy happiness. But when you’re choosing how to spend your money, wouldn’t you like to choose something that has been shown to at least make you a little happier over time?


In examining research conducted at Cornell University, The Atlantic reports that experiential purchases make consumers much happier than do material purchases.


Looking back on purchases made, experiences make people happier than do possessions. It's kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you'll have it for a long time … It’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they're not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story.


Certainly, we’ve all been there. The new dining room table just sits there after a while. In contrast, even the rained-out camping trip becomes more and more epic over the passage of time.


So instead of that new rug, maybe choose tickets to a rugby match. Instead of shopping, go backpacking. Rather than a new watch, choose to watch a ballet. Because even if the experience itself doesn’t turn out rosy at the time, chances are good that you’ll recall it fondly later.


2) You can learn new skills.

Scientists have long studied the positive effects of learning new skills. Research shows that the brain physically changes, becoming healthier and more responsive with increased exposure to challenging learning environments.


In fact, additional research shows that learning several new skills at once has a compounding positive effect. Meaning, taking different types of lessons at the same time has the potential to increase effectiveness in all areas. The implication is that taking a ceramics class while also learning karate could make you better at both.


So instead of buying a new laptop, sign up for surf lessons or a painting class. Or both! Rather than buying your kids another toy, consider signing them up for innovation camp or tennis club. Your brains will thank you!

Mom painting with her kids


3) You minimize clutter.

Research shows that clutter can actually have a negative impact on our mental and physical health. As stuff accumulates in our homes, it can lead to distraction, memory issues, and heightened stress levels.


In addition, clutter can perpetuate due to an increase in procrastination tendencies and a sense of overwhelm at the prospect of minimization. This may lead to the mental health problem of hoarding. And, according to medical professionals, hoarding is linked to obesity and insomnia.


Let’s avoid all that negativity. Instead of more action figures that pile up in his room, gift your child a superhero gymnastics camp experience. Instead of new shoes to clutter up your closet, join a walking club. Guard yourself from the chaos that more stuff brings!


4) You prioritize relationships.

While technology certainly has its value, there’s an inherent danger in our society’s growing dependence on delivery apps and social media: loneliness.


A recent study on loneliness states: “In the last decade, technology has changed how we interact with each other and with the world, raising questions about its impact on both our social connectedness and overall well-being.” The study also links loneliness to depression, dementia, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.


Bottom line: isolation and loneliness are detrimental to our health. Conversely, positive relationships are good for our health and well-being. Therefore, it is important to use our resources of time and money in a way that prioritizes relationships.


Instead of buying the latest cell phone, consider investing in a weekend getaway with your bestie. Instead of a new TV, think through a zoo membership for the family. Rather than new golf clubs, book a few driving range sessions with your spouse. Time spent with your people is time well spent.


5) You increase anticipation and decrease anxiety.

It’s no secret that humans get pleasure simply from looking forward to upcoming desirable events. One psychological study indicates that anticipating a new experience brings excitement while looking forward to a new thing has a tendency to bring only impatience. Researchers conclude, “Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential rather than for material purchases.”


Think about it: Waiting three weeks for an upcoming concert makes you increasingly giddy, but waiting three weeks to receive a new tablet makes you increasingly grumpy, right?


Related, in some cases more stuff can actually increase anxiety. For example, having a newer, more expensive car may cause you to worry more over everything from increased insurance costs to door dings in the parking lot.


So, in an effort to trade anxiety for anticipation, maybe swap that fancy SUV purchase for a family cruise instead. Or, rather than that designer purse, consider getting a theme park pass with your friends.

Family at the fair


6) You model good values.

In Luke 12, Jesus warns against the accumulation of possessions: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (vs 15)


To illustrate his point, the Lord goes on to tell the parable of the rich man who accumulated so much stuff that he had to build bigger barns just to hold everything. Yet all that stuff could not save him; his life came to an end just like everyone else’s. And his greed displeased God.


The world tells us that stuff matters. Materialism, comparison, and consumerism seem as “normal” as breathing. However, as believers, we can model something different: contentment and generosity.


Instead of a new boat, maybe God is calling your family on a mission trip. Instead of buying a new wardrobe for yourself, consider buying new baby clothes for your local crisis pregnancy center. Jesus was clear in Luke 12: Giving is the best experience of all.


7) You create something that lasts.

If you’ve seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, you might be familiar with the term “core memory.” Well, as it turns out, core memories are really a thing; rewarding experiences are preserved inside our brains.


Researchers at Columbia University have proven that our brains weed out inconsequential events and save good memories. “We can’t remember everything…one way that the brain solves this problem is by automatically filtering our experiences, preserving memories of important information and allowing the rest to fade away.”


The idea of using my time and money to create something that lasts holds a lot of appeal. I want to make those core memories for myself and my people!


In the end, we know these good things remain: the kingdom of God and the souls of people. So instead of asking, “What do I want?” maybe the healthiest question to ask when considering our resources is, “Will this last?” By asking that, I think we open ourselves up to the best decisions about our time and money — healthy choices that bring lasting rewards for ourselves and those we love.


What are some examples of experiences over things you have shared with friends and family? Share in the comments!

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