Individual Counseling, Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy

Experience: The New Way to Happiness

Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times contained a very interesting article titled “Living, not buying, is what matters.”  Did you read it?  If not, or even if you did, here is my take.

The article profiled a couple who lived for their stuff.  They were in jobs they hated so they could make payments on the debt they took on so that they could buy lots of stuff.  Stuff they didn’t really need.  Or really want.  “Stuff” ultimately controlled their lives.

Said couple,  inspired by a web post about living with less,  decided to pare back in a big way.  They moved to a studio apartment and limited themselves to 100 personal items.  They sold their cars and gave away most of their clothing.  What else did they get rid of?  Their $30,000 debt.  Now, one partner works part-time in a business she loves, and the other is pursuing a doctorate.  By getting rid of their stuff, they made room in their lives for what really matters.

The research seems to back them up.  People gain more satisfaction from experiences than they do from accumulating stuff.  As Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, states: “It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a couch, is basically the idea.”  Thomas DeLeire, an associate professor of public affairs, population, health and economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, agrees.  He found that out of nine categories, the only one that really made people happy was leisure: the vacation rather than the couch.

Other experts agree that people seem to be cutting back on consumption, but it is unknown how much of that is due to the poor economy and how much is due to a life-changing epiphany, like our couple.  Regardless of the reason, people are reaping the benefits.

There are many reasons why experiences seem to be more beneficial.  One is that a shared leisure experience strengthens social bonds, and, as I am continually telling my clients, a good support system is essential to mental health.  Another reason is that it takes longer to process an experience than a purchase.  Think about it.  How long did it take you to stop being excited about your shiny new leather jacket vs. the wonderful mountain vacation you just took?  This phenomenon even has a name: “hedonic adaptation.”  There is no parallel term for becoming accustomed to experiences.  What does that tell you?

Take it from Roko Belic, a Los Angeles filmaker who moved to a trailer park so he could surf more.  Before you scoff, think about what is really important.  Is it stuff or surfing?  Roko is happier living more simply so he can pursue his passion: surfing, not sitting around looking at his stuff.

I hope this inspires you to take a look at your life.  What are you dragging around that you can get rid of?  How can you simplify?  What is really going to make you happy?  Is it the 40″ flat screen TV or the trip to Montana?  I, for one, am going to start researching Montana.  Today.

I look forward to your comments.

Source: St. Petersburg Times, Sunday, August 15, 2010


  1. Terry Saux

    Barb,’I so enjoy your posts…this one is no exception. It’s wonderful to be in touch with you through your work. I’m impressed, as I knew I would be years ago.
    Take good care of yourself…love,

    • counselorbarb

      Thank you, Terry. Your confidence in me means a lot.

  2. We are loaded down with too much stuff. We can’t take it with us.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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