Buy experiences, not things

Rick has a birthday coming up shortly. Hmmm—what under the sun to get him?

For several years now, he’s said, “I absolutely don’t want anything.” But what turns out to be even more suitable than abstinence is if we find something interesting to DO on the day, even if it’s just a good movie and dinner at a favourite restaurant. Better yet is when we plan ahead. The anticipation enhances, and we can concoct ways to add to our adventure.

Buy experiences, not thingsSo it was with no surprise that I read an article this morning (forwarded to me, of course, by Paul the maven), which slides in nicely with what I’ve been observing about Rick, and about life generally. Titled “Buy Experiences, Not Things”, the article describes research-based studies that indicate we’re much happier making experiential purchases than material ones. I recommend reading the whole article. You won’t be saying, my God, who would have thought any of that? You will say, yes, that makes sense, and yes, I’ve figured out most of that for myself…but read it nonetheless. It will help clarify things when you’ve next got a birthday to plan for.

The article builds from the premise that 47% of the time, our minds are wandering. Imagine that. While I’ve been typing this, half the time my mind’s been flicking around to other distractions. Furthermore, say the researchers, left to its own devices the mind is likely to gravitate to “dark places”. So given my mind is going to wander anyway, the best thing I can do for it is give it something interesting to anticipate, or something interesting to reflect back on. Like: an event, a holiday, an adventure. This is good news. I’ve been thinking of my interest in experiences as sort of an indulgence, but the research is saying, to the contrary, it’s an investment in my happiness and well-being.

The article describes several salient factors. Let me illustrate with a case in point.

Port Stephens NSWSix months ago Robyn and Jim, who are friends living in Sydney, emailed Rick and me the link to a special made available by a resort in Port Stephens, a sleepy beachside town about two hours from us. The offer was for three nights in a two-bedroom suite, and had to be used within a year. “What do you think?” they suggested. “Shall we buy it and book in together sometime?” We mulled it over briefly, did a bit of research and plunked down our money (not a lot of it, as it was a very good special).

A few weeks ago, we finally booked our dates, and last weekend off we went on our adventure.

Relationship.
One of the key factors about an experiential purchase is that it often relates to other people, much more so than a material purchase does. And it comes as no surprise that we get greater happiness from this added “identity, connection and social behaviour”.

That was certainly true of our experience. Because Robyn and Jim live a four hour drive from us, we don’t see them nearly often enough. But our little investment gave us lots of opportunities for enhancing our relationship. There were many emails over the last six months, as we chatted about possible time frames, tightened up specific dates, and finally got down to working out who’d bring the cheese, chicken and wine. That was topped off with an excellent three days together, as we dined out, cooked in, harbour-cruised, went to the cinema, lay on the beach, and watched DVDs curled up on the sofas at the apartment.

Anticipation.
This business of looking forward to things was cited by the article as a key benefit of an experiential purchase. Interesting, that. Since we booked in a few weeks ago, I’d been giving the holiday a fair bit of thought—with a smattering of trepidation, given my fibreglass-encased leg and ambulatory deficiency (not to mention that the mind will wander to dark places in that 47% of idle time). But mostly I was looking forward to it. In a quiet moment, I’d slip into Google and check out activities, restaurants or what’s on at the local cinema. Granted On the ferrymy life isn’t dripping with activity these days, but I can see that I always mull over an upcoming experience much more so than I do a purchase—even a purchase worth a hundred times as much, such as a new car.

Memory.
The way things slide into our memory banks is another factory. There’s no doubt all four of us will think back fondly on the weekend. For me, it will be a time when I conquered no end of obstacles to my mobility, when I learned to knit, and when I had adventures, conversations and relaxing times with good friends.

Again, here’s the article. I predict it will sharpen your spending habits forever.

Speaking of knitting reminds me of something else that caught my attention this weekend. While teaching me to knit-one-pearl-one, Robyn was describing her niece’s upcoming wedding. She proceeded to dig out her iPhone to show me the wedding registry. The bridal couple have lived together for some time and say they have all the “things” they could want. So the registry, called Honeyfund, invites you to gift them contributions toward their honeymoon in the Maldives. How amazing is that?! You could donate $100 toward hotel accommodation, or $30 for cocktails at the poolside, or $50 toward a day’s snorkelling. Anything a honeymooner’s heart could desire can be registered, at any price a well-wisher wants to contribute.

HoneyfundThe researchers, I think, would support the concept of Honeyfund. Surely it’s a perfect gifting solution, backed by scientific research, providing much anticipation and guaranteeing good memories. It’s also something that’s fun to participate in for the wedding guests. If I’ve contributed toward a bungy jump, for example, I’m bound to be interested in finding out how it went and will be hanging out for the photos.

Check out the concept here.

When Rick celebrates his birthday on 1 December, we’ll be in Noosa with our FLAFF friends. No doubt there’ll be adventures and celebrations—experiences Rick will relish for a long time. With such a rich banquet of possibilities, there’s really no need to worry about a birthday gift.

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