Happiness: The Family Experience

Ask anyone what they want most of out of life, and chances are he or she will reply: “to be happy.” But what exactly makes people happy, and how can you get the most happiness out of life? If you abide by the age-old adage, “money can’t buy happiness,” you may be missing a fine distinction: spending your money in different ways may bring you varying degrees of happiness.

Imagine that you have an extra hundred dollars to spend and want to treat yourself to something special. Scientific research offers you the following advice on how to spend it: choose an experiential purchase rather than a material one. In a 2003 paper on this topic, experiential purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through.” Meanwhile, material purchases were defined as “those made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession.” Examples of experiential purchases include family vacations, massages, or tickets to a baseball game. Material purchases, on the other hand, include clothing, an iPad, or a sleek new car.

Another recent study demonstrated that compared with material purchases, experiential purchases make people happier both in the immediate term as well as after the experience has passed, leading to longer-term happiness. Though evidence is mounting that experiences are more satisfying than material possessions, scientists are still investigating why this is the case. One possible reason, suggested by the work of Travis Carter and Thomas Gilovich,  is that experiences cannot be compared like material possessions, and because of that, the satisfaction you get from an experience is more robust. Think of it this way: it’s easy to compare two expensive watches, but it’s far more difficult to compare vacations in two exotic locations. In addition, the scientists found that people have more difficulty making material versus experiential purchase decisions, and that people also tend to second-guess and ruminate over material purchases more than experiential ones.

Happiness research can be applied to everything from public policy to psychotherapy to the choices we make in everyday life. The next time you are faced with the option of splurging on an experience or a possession, consider that an experience may not only make you happier, but can also bring happiness to the people you share it with.

That is why we at Reel Tributes believe so strongly in what we do. A family history documentary is a genuine life experience and an investment for the whole family. It is a purchase that allows you to preserve lasting memories, strengthen family bonds, and create long-term joy that a new toy simply can’t provide.  In the words of one client:

We staged a “premiere” of Nana’s tribute movie at her 90th birthday party to over 100 friends and family.  At the conclusion of the movie there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  It has been over 2 months since the big unveiling and the family is still raving about how much they learned about Nana from the video that they never would have otherwise….The overall consensus is that Nana’s Reel Tributes Video was an invaluable gift to our family. 

If you’re looking for long-term happiness, think about what’s most important in your life. Most likely, it’s not the material possessions you own. Experiences and family bonding: the two sources of happiness that will stick with you and your loved ones.