We Are The Sum Of Our Experiences

When you work hard every single day and there’s only so much money left after your regular expenses, you have to make certain it’s well spent.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, studied this topic for 20 years and reached a powerful conclusion:

“Don’t spend your money on things. The trouble with things is that the happiness they provide fades quickly.”

The Paradox Of Possessions

There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a once in a lifetime experience like a solo trip across Europe. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich,

“We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

So instead of buying a new phone every year, Dr. Gilovich suggests that your money is better invested in experiences like traveling, outdoor activities or learning a new skill.


It’s called the Paradox of Possession. A physical object that you can keep for as long as it lasts, doesn’t keep you as happy as long as a once in a lifetime experience does.

A material possession becomes part of the new normal quite fast, you get used to it. Adapted.

But while the happiness from material purchases decreases over time, experiences become part of who we are.

We are no more than the sum of our experiences.

“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you”

We Are The Sum Of Our Experiences

One study conducted by Gilovich showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, or was even a nightmare at the time, once they have the chance to share that story with their friends and family, their assessment of that experience improves. Gilovich attributes this to the fact that something that might have been stressful or scary in the past can become a funny story to tell at a party or be looked back on as an invaluable character-building experience.

Another reason is that shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared material goods.

You’re much more likely to feel connected to someone you took a vacation with than someone who also happens to have bought the iPhone.

“We consume experiences directly with other people. And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

And even if someone wasn’t with you when you had a particular experience, you’re much more likely to bond over both having traveled to Egypt or went skydiving than you are over both owning gaming computers.

“By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness”

So next time you’re about to make a big investment, think twice about what will make you truly happy.


Who are we, but the sum of our experiences?

Research Link

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