Published for www.dmarron.com, April 30, 2012
A recurring theme of recent happiness research is that when it comes to seeking pleasure, people should “buy experiences rather than things.” People are happier when they skip the shiny baubles (or new high heels) and do something memorable.
Over at the Atlantic, Garett Jones gives one economic explanation for this finding:memories are a durable good.
[M]emory, wholly intangible, is quite durable.
People often shrink from driving to a distant, promising restaurant, flying to a new country, trying a new sport–it’s a hassle, and the experience won’t last that long. That’s the wrong way to look at it. When you go bungee jumping, you’re not buying a brief experience: You’re buying a memory, one that might last even longer than a good pair of blue jeans.
Psych research seems to bear this out: People love looking forward to vacations, they don’t like the vacation that much while they’re on it, and then they love the memories. Most of the joy–the utility in econospeak–happens when you’re not having the experience. …
[P]eople treat memories somewhat like durables, but most of us could do a better job of it. Yes, it’ll be a hassle to find that riad in Marrakech when your GPS fails you, but complaining about it with your sibling years later will be a ton of fun. Get on with it.
A corollary: if memory really is a durable, then you should buy a lot of it when you’re young. That’ll give you more years to enjoy your purchase.
So it’s worth a bit of suffering to create some good memories, since the future lasts a lot longer than the present.
That’s good advice. But I can’t help thinking that people who are unhappy on vacation are doing it wrong. Then again, maybe my recollection is blurred by selective memory?