Experience-based Consumerism

Minimalism, and the now-fading frugality movement that had swept the nation during the great recession, has brought about this idea, by now a cliché I think, that buying stuff won’t make you happy so instead you should spend your effort and money on “experiences”. The idea goes that having more “stuff”, after basic needs are met, doesn’t actually make people happy, but actually being free to spend time with friends, on hobbies, or just doing some simple activity that you like will make you happier. So you’re better off taking the time to “do something” rather than just working harder so you can buy yet another gadget or new car or whatever.

Somehow, this message has been co-opted into not just spending time on things, but actually spending money on them. So, instead of encouraging people to cut back on work hours and using the time to indulge in a hobby like cycling, hiking or reading; people seem to jump to the conclusion that they should reprioritize their spending from acquiring objects, to spending money on these activities that really don’t require much money to do at all.

It seems, from the studies they’re based on, we ought to be reading articles along the lines of, “Don’t buy an iPad to be happy, instead cut back at work and take up snorkeling!” But instead I see healines more akin to, “Don’t buy an iPad to be happy, instead go to Barbados!”

To me it sounds suspiciously like a bit of pop-psychology co-opted by the travel industry in order to get people to spend more money on airfare and less on gizmos.

Whether you’re falling prey to consumerism by buying gadgets, or you’re falling prey to consumerism by buying fancy dinners, or exotic trips, or pricey theater tickets, the end result is still the same; spending money according to how marketers want you to.

How come these fluff pieces never mention the type of happiness that can come from having significant savings? Or enough money to never work again? Or being free from ever having to worry about paying a bill again? How about comparing the happiness that comes from not even having monthly bills to pay as compared to the happiness from an expensive luxury vacation that cuts into your savings?

One caveat, I do think consumption and spending money carefully and thoughtfully on both material objects as well as “experiences” can be enjoyable and not at all a waste. I just object to the morphing of the message of “people derive more happiness from experiences than from possessing property,” to the popular media message of, “spend money, just not on stuff!”

Do experiences make people happier than possessions? – Maybe. – Apparently.

But that doesn’t mean then that people ought to take all the money they’re blowing on stuff and turn around and blow it on services. You don’t have to pay other people in order to have an enriching experience, it turns out you can do it yourself for little and often no money.

Below is a photo I took from atop a plateau West of Albuquerque. I mountain biked my way several miles outside of the city at night, and scaled the plateau with the help of a flashlight, and was entranced by the scenery long enough to enjoy this sunrise.

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    marketers rarely miss an opportunity. It is no surprise that the travel industry was paying enough attention to catch this “experience” wave. :)