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Why Traveling Makes Us Happier Than Material Things
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Cedric Jackson
09.26.17

Science tells us that traveling makes us happier than material things.

Some people get caught up in accumulating as much wealth and material possessions as possible, while others seem to use all of their money on vacations. While everyone has a different preference, research tells us that those who travel tend to be much happier than those who focus on material wealth.

Yes, you can feel happy when you buy more things. The problem, however, is that while you experience happiness right after a purchase, that feeling fades over time. You are then left needing to make another purchase to rekindle the feeling.

Research from Cornell University found the solution to this risk of declining happiness: traveling. Professor Thomas Gilovich from the psychology department showed that your increase in happiness is the same when traveling as it is when you buy something new.

More importantly, despite happiness with a purchase reducing over time, the memories of your time spent traveling will let you maintain this positive feeling much longer.

Flickr/mperich
Source:
Flickr/mperich

This comes in sharp contrast to what some people believe.

After all, you get to keep a physical object forever while a vacation only lasts for a specific time frame. Despite some people’s assumption, Dr. Gilovich’s study is the result of two decades of research and shows a clear link between traveling and happiness.

Talking to Fast Company, Dr. Gilovich explained:

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. 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 that instead of splurging on a major purchase, like a car or top-of-the-line smartphone, you instead travel, pick up a new skill, enjoy the outdoors, visit an art exhibit, or create another experience.

Gilovich also pointed out that:

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. 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.”

Even better, shared experiences can connect us to others as “we consume experiences directly with other people.” Even if you and another person didn’t visit the same location at the same time, the fact that you both experienced it will connect you, creating a bond.

Gilovich isn’t the only one to have discovered the link between travel and happiness in other years.

New studies corroborating his findings are constantly released. Forbes reported on similar research done by San Francisco State University about a year ago. Researchers in that study discovered that thrills associated with buying things disappear quickly. This contrasts with the memories and joy of experiences, which can last much longer, sometimes even a lifetime.

When you take a closer look at the results of traveling and experiencing new things, it makes logical sense that these actions lead to happiness.

When you travel, you enjoy new experiences, which can build up neuropathways within the brain. In other words, traveling can actually rewire your brain, improving your creativity and mental health. These new experiences can also spark compassion, which will improve your connections with others and opportunities for happiness.

Flickr/fdecomite
Source:
Flickr/fdecomite

Additionally, when you look back at your time traveling, you are more likely to focus on the good than the bad. If there was a bad experience, you may laugh about it years later, turning it into a positive memory that makes you happy. There are countless stories of getting horribly lost leading to new friendships or people focusing on spending time with loved ones instead of the food poisoning they developed on a trip.

As time passes, your memories from traveling will focus on the positive, things that make you happy. You can always turn to the memories of the trip when you are feeling down, but a new car can only cheer you up if the vehicle is with you at that very moment.

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By Cedric Jackson
hi@sbly.com
Cedric Jackson is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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