Many years ago, a friend of ours who had done quite well financially quipped, only somewhat tongue in cheek, “Money may not buy me happiness, but I can use to buy a huge yacht so that I can pull up right next to it.”
I’ve read in a couple of places lately, including a recent newsletter from positive psychologist Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, that studies have shown that people who spend their money on experiences tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction than people who spend their money on material possessions. I assume this means things like larger homes, fine furniture, expensive clothing, jewelry, and new cars.
This insight has given me a springboard for thinking about the choices my husband and I have made over the years. We live in the same modest home that we bought in 1987. Our cars are fourteen and sixteen years old. Outside the holidays, “going shopping” is not on our list of regular activities. More than once, more than a year has passed between my visits to the main shopping mall in Ann Arbor.
In telling you this, though, by no means do I mean to hold us up to the light as exemplary consumers. On the contrary, I worry that we don’t do our share to help fuel the economy by saving a bit less and spending more.
Plus, I would argue that investing in “stuff” does, in fact, sometimes bring greater life satisfaction. For example, this is certainly true of the moderately expensive artwork we’ve bought over the years and the small addition to our house that was completed more than ten years ago to give us a larger, lighter kitchen, a small breakfast nook, and a back deck that’s well used during much of the year. As I think about this a bit more, the money spent on these things is, in fact, an investment in experience. In these instances, it’s the experience of once again appreciating a work of art, standing in the sunlight as it streams through the tall windows in our redone kitchen, or enjoying another meal on the deck.
As for the investments we’ve made in experiences alone, let me take stock. These include two fourteen-day visits to various parts of Vancouver Island (a slice of heaven on earth), a trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah, a two-week trip to Alaska, a few guided kayaking trips over the years (on Lake Superior, leaving from Tofino, British Columbia, and on a glacial bay in Alaska), and, best of all at least so far, a 15-day guided white water rafting trip through Grand Canyon in 2009.
Plus, every year we make a fairly considerable donation to the Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor’s historic independent movie theatre, which gives us a free pass to attend as many movies as we want, which is a lot, and free popcorn (which only my fellow popcorn lovers will be able to appreciate fully).
Lately, though, when people ask us whether we have any trips planned (apparently we’ve earned a reputation), I don’t have a good answer. Every year we talk about wanting to spend time on Isle Royale. I’ve been talking my whole life about taking a walking vacation in Ireland. Someday my husband would love to kayak in the Queen Charlotte Islands in B.C., Canada. The list does on.
Others, it seem, are better at this than we are. Two friends have just returned from a trip to Central America with their whole family. Another friend is planning a trip to New York City and has purchased terrific (i.e., top dollar) seats to a popular Broadway play and at least one other high-end performance. Their decisions to invest in such fabulous experiences make me wonder about my own “investment” choices these days.
Sometime soon I want to visit our older daughter and our son-in-law in California, so why haven’t I purchased my airline ticket yet? Over the past several years, why have we bought so few tickets to performances of nationally and internationally known artists? How could I have blown the chance again this year to attend the annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival?
With that I leave you with these important questions for each of us to ask:
• What type of experiences do you want to invest in?
• What would bring you the greatest joy?
• What types of memories do you want to be sure to have stored away?
• What’s holding you back?
• If not now—or perhaps soon, when?