Earlier this year, I finally moved into my own place. I wanted to buy everything I saw, immediately, right there and then, to fill up my new little home and make it perfect.
It’s only now that I’ve realised how much of a gradual process it all actually is.
As much as I’d have loved to have spent all my money in the first month buying sofas, wardrobes and that 42 inch TV …and then having to declare bankruptcy, nothing can beat the memory of my boyfriend and I eating dinner the first couple of weeks on a makeshift table made out of moving boxes.
There’s the assumption that when ‘buying happiness’, we focus on the things that will last the longest.
A new car lasts longer than a gig. A new iPhone will make us happier for a longer period of time than eating out at a restaurant. Or going to the theatre. But will it really?
Most people assume that when spending their money, a physical object will last longer, and will therefore make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like skydiving, or a holiday. According to recent research, it turns out that this assumption may not necessarily be true.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of us than our material goods,” says Dr Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University who has been studying the relationship between money and happiness for more than two decades. “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.”
Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to events, learning a new skill, doing outdoor activities, or traveling.
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 total of our experiences.”
When we are able to go out there and do things, we are buying our own happiness, at prices we set. Memories you make at concerts, art galleries and even just going out to eat can last a lifetime. Can we say the same for the Apple Watch?
One of the reasons why exhibitions and trade shows have battled through the recession and have come out on the other side in a better light, is because it’s all about creating that experience.
According to MPI’s UK Economic Impact Study 2013, the events industry contributes £58.4bn to UK GDP and the meetings industry is worth £58.4bn to the UK GDP – three times greater than the agricultural sector.
We must be doing something right. Whether you’re attending the show as a visitor, supplying the shell scheme or manning the registration desk, you are interacting and creating that experience.
We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow. – B.J Neblett
Your opinions and beliefs come from your experiences, and these are never inanimate objects. Even negatives experiences can affect our positivity.
Gilovich suggests that if you experienced something that might have been stressful or scary, this can in turn become a funny story to tell at a party or be used as an invaluable character-building experience.
Shared experiences also connect us more to other people than shared consumption of goods. Why do you think keynote speakers are often referred to as the ‘crux’ of an event? Because these industry experts share their experiences and we can learn from them.
“We consume experiences directly with other people,” Gilovich adds. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”
More and more brands are launching unique experiential activations to effectively sell their products.
Theme Traders are known for their secret party experiences and showcases. Earlier this year, my colleague Emma and I went to one of their deconstructed birthday party-themed nights (see main pic) which comprised of: a balloon-filled room blasting S Club 7 and other early aughts classics; edible Play-Doh and walls to draw all over; a warehouse papered with birthday gift wrap, waiting to be torn apart; a ‘FOMO’ Clinic where nurses handed out banana liqueur medicine and jelly beans; and a psychedelic airplane hanger splattered with neon paint.
In July, Bompas & Parr launched, Alcoholic Architecture, featuring a walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail. Combining meteorology and mixology, the installation created an alcoholic weather system where guests to the bar were asked to wear special protective suits to enter. The cloud was entirely composed of fine spirits and mixer at a ratio of 1:3, made using powerful humidifiers to super-saturate the air. The idea was that alcohol entered the bloodstream through the body’s mucus membranes – primarily the lungs but also the eyeballs. Once inside, punters were able to order further cocktails from a menu that complemented the taste profile of the breathable beverage.
Experiences like these will surely be more memorable than being given a goody bag with some leaflets and a voucher?
“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,” says Gilovich and his co-author, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology.
…as Humphrey Bogart once told Ingrid Bergman: “We’ll always have Paris”.