While I have been delivering most of the stuff I own to the dump and Goodwill, I have also been thinking about my recent travels and dance classes – alone and particularly with Susan. This has reminded me of a simple principle of sustained happiness: experiences rate higher than things. This is not an idea that I made up. There is lots of science to support it. Although I am not yet retired, I suspect that the “experiences over things” equation applies as well to retirement life.
If those of us who are not retired are aware of and embrace this concept, we can begin to design our life as retirees accordingly. Instead of saving for a fancy new car, we create a travel fund. Rather than buy a larger television, maybe we should take a dance class or learn a new language instead. Is this making sense?
On the other hand, I am not advocating a policy of surrendering all of our tangible belongings or depriving ourselves of things that bring us sustained pleasure, even if others might consider them unnecessary or even frivolous. Indeed, some “things” are essential to allowing us to have experiences that we value.
For example, yesterday Susan and I took our bikes to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a short drive from my house in Kentucky. We went on a nine mile trail ride through a beautiful forest on a warm, sunny day. The experience was awesome. However, before we could have that experience, I needed to have a bike rack for the car (purchased last year), bikes that could be safely used off-road, and tools to keep the bikes in good shape. I think this is a good trade-off.
Musical instruments are another example. If you love to play, you need the instrument to bring the music to life, don’t you?
I had an interesting read on this same topic this week. The article – from a Paleo blog that I read – put the “experiences over things” happiness principle in a historical context. It then analyzed more recent research on this issue which really brings it home. It all makes sense. Here is the article which you definitely should read: Do You Value Experiences Over Things? | Mark’s Daily Apple
You can ask yourself this question: What past purchases in your life bring up the most positive feelings? Is it a trip you took with family or friends? Or was it that new cell phone?
So fellow baby boomers, I leave you with this idea: Perhaps you should start designing your retirement life (or redesigning it if you are already retired) to intentionally elevate the experiences you will have over the things you will keep or buy. Downsizing your stuff opens up your life to more experiences because you don’t have to worry so much about storing or maintaining the stuff. Even thinking about all that excess stuff can bring you down.
Go for it!