What’s the key to happiness? It’s something we’ve all wondered about.
But knowing where to start finding that happiness isn’t always easy.
Ads often encourage people to chase happiness through material things, like tech gadgets, cars, and clothes — but can you really buy happiness?
Well, according to Amit Kumar, a social psychologist who studies happiness and spending habits, you can actually give your happiness a serious boost by spending your money on meaningful moments.
Kumar is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and has published several studies on the satisfaction people get from their purchases. He and his colleagues have compared experiential purchases like a plane ticket for a vacation to material purchases like electronics.
Kumar says they found that “people derive more satisfaction from experiential purchases like vacations than they do from material purchases like clothing, jewelry, furniture, electronic gadgets, and so on.”
So if you’re considering attending a show, visiting a new country, or taking a road trip, you might want to start packing.
According to Kumar, it’s not necessarily the purchase itself that makes you happy — it’s the memorable experiences that purchase leads to. In other words, your trip or outing will likely lead you to experience new and exciting things that you might remember forever.
And sometimes, what makes that experience memorable is the people you meet along the way and the unexpected connections you make with them.
It’s not like you need a big, dramatic moment to make this kind of connection. The moments of connection can be as simple as opening the door for a stranger, or offering a mint after enjoying a coffee with that long-lost classmate you ran into randomly while exploring a new city. Maybe, on your adventures, you’ll meet a waitress who goes above and beyond for her customers; or maybe you’ll strike up a conversation with someone in line to see that concert you’ve been waiting for all year. Maybe you’ll grab lunch with those hikers who warned you about a bear up ahead on the nature trail.
Whatever these small moments are, you’ll be talking about them later, telling coworkers, dates, and new friends about that time a road trip led you to someone you might have never met otherwise.
And when you talk about an experience afterward, it lives on — and so do the feelings of happiness you’ve derived from it.
Jesse Walker, who co-authored a study with Kumar, says, “One-time experiences tend to grow sweeter in memory as time passes. Even a vacation that goes terribly wrong in every way often becomes a fond memory.”
So maybe, someday, you’ll even laugh about the road trip with your partner that got you horribly lost and spending the night in that scary hotel you swear was haunted.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to ditch material purchases altogether to find happiness — the key is to find some balance. Rather than getting pulled completely into the world of material things, Kumar says, you can put some of your spending money toward experiences, too.
You may even be able to get both at once: For instance, a cell phone with a great camera can give you mementos like photos and videos of good times shared with friends and loved ones.
So look out for opportunities for those small moments of connection — they can carry a wealth of happiness.
Which means that finding the key to happiness is much simpler than many people think. It’s not about having the right material possessions to make you feel satisfied. It’s more about life’s little moments — sharing an experience and making a connection that leaves you with meaningful, happy memories.
While that may not be your only source of happiness, it’s a great start to help you combat loneliness and find the joy you seek.