It used to be standard thinking that by having lots of fancy things you would be happy, forever. People would do whatever it took to get a Ferrari, own all the latest gadgets, exotic handbags, etc. But what they didn’t think about being adaptable. Science now shows that this line of thinking (object-based happiness) is nonproductive.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University. He goes on to say, “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 if you take that in for a minute, all those fancy things you buy just create a desire to buy more things. And those things don’t create happiness for very long. You’ll adapt and not value what you have, and you’ll just be looking for the next big thing.
Why You Adapt to Objects Rather Than Experiences
You might be thinking, “Won’t you adapt to experiences too?” While there might be some merit to that, it’s not nearly to the degree of the “shiny object syndrome”. The shiny object syndrome makes your self-worth about your possessions rather than your experiences. This is because the objects are always around, and that makes it easier to adapt to them. Experiences, on the other hand, are memories that are harder to adapt to.
The person with the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley is probably thinking about what he or she will buy next, once he/she gets used to them. This adaptation based thinking is training you to think like this and always be on the lookout for the next best thing that you can upgrade to or buy next. It creates a very false sense of happiness, and most people get to their deathbed and realize that all those fancy objects they were chasing didn’t mean anything. They wish they could go back and live more for the experiences, and have amazing memories to look back on.
Experiences Connect Us to People, Not Objects
Remember when you took that amazing vacation? I bet you also remember who you took it with. But, on the other hand, you probably don’t remember who else was in the shop buying a handbag or watch at the same time you were. That’s because these emotional and amazing experiences create a much more genuine bond than an object ever could.
As we make a shift towards this paradigm, we will start to see employers giving more paid vacation, and people spending their money on vacations rather than items. You might still get triggered if you can’t afford to travel at the same rate as someone else, say economy vs. business/first class. But, this is just a small thing and doesn’t nearly trigger most of us as much as seeing huge mansions and exotic cars every day.
Once you start to make the shift yourself to living your life for the important moments, having amazing adventures, and travelling – you will notice that all those other things don’t have as much power over you. And you certainly won’t be sitting up late at night crying about not having a Ferrari or gold plated watch.
Experiences Are Much More Fun (and Inspiring) to Talk About
Unless you are a class A- douchebag, you probably don’t go around bragging about all your fancy cars, houses, watches, diamonds, handbags, etc. On the other hand, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell a story about an amazing trip you took with your partner. You tell a story about an incredible emotional experience or about the amazing things you saw. That kind of thing touches people much more than bragging about all your fancy items does.
Doesn’t Money Equal Happiness?
In some cases, it can – for a while. For example, if someone was “poor” and is now suddenly making a lot more money, or hit the lottery, they might temporarily be quite happy. But is it real happiness? And haven’t you heard those stories of people winning the lottery and ending up really, really miserable? That’s because they get a bunch of nice things and constantly chase shinier things… and then they adapt. For people that were extremely poor, this can happen even faster because they never had those things and the chasing effect is amplified.
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things
There’s a fine line, though between chasing shiny objects and having nice things. If you feel yourself constantly wanting to replace and upgrade what you have, maybe it’s time to get real. Don’t get caught up chasing items and upgrades. The grass is not always greener on the other side; it just looks like it from a distance.
Brian is an Inc. 500 Entrepreneur, who built the 25th fastest growth marketing and advertising agency in America. Brian is an advisor to many startups and mentor to many entrepreneurs. He is a columnist at the world’s top publications. Brian is the Founder of Influencive and the Founder at BDE Ventures.