By Sharna Goldseker
Some of you have heard that over spring break I went on a 3,000 mile road trip with my family down to Georgia and back. Most people I told quickly responded verbally (or with non-verbal expressions of shock on their faces) that my husband and I were crazy to drive so many miles and hours with our two little children, who are 6 1/2 and 3 1/2 now (they are at the age when they definitely include the “half” in their birthdays).
I had only focused on the joy that I imagined I would feel exploring the unknown such as the little ferry we stumbled upon on a gloriously sunny day in North Carolina, or the tacos we ate overlooking the revitalized RiverArts District of Asheville.
What I hadn’t anticipated, were the untouched coloring books and CDs my Mom had bought for my kids to use in the car rides, as my children ended up enjoying the discovery of the journey more than the new stuff they had acquired for it. Their list of road trip favorites would include playing at the Children’s Museum of the Low Country, scootering from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, and creating their own chocolate bars at Chocolate World in Hershey, PA.
So when a woman I met told me about this article, it resonated with me. The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things…
“‘One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation’ says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. ‘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 rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling.”
The article goes on to say that he tested people reporting on major purchases and experiential purchases and they were equal at first, “but over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, where their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up.”
As I thought about the stuff we thought my kids’ needed to distract them in the car, (let alone in their closets at home), it seems obvious now that their interest in the material would wane over time. But what I hadn’t fully appreciated was how much the experiential would generate lasting satisfaction.
“‘Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,’ say Gilovich. ‘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.’”
Given the work we do with the individuals and families we serve, it feels poignant to me that the experience is what we can offer people more than the things. I was reminded of this after facilitating sessions at a family foundation retreat last Friday where the family engaged in using 21/64 tools and participating in interactive exercise for the first time. Many remarked how meaningful and truly multigenerational this board meeting had felt compared to others, leaving me feeling it really is experience that is so valuable.
As I’m reflecting on my memories of the road trip, I’ve started to ask myself how we as advisors can create experiences for clients every time we host a meeting for them or when they attend an event or webinar we curate. And how can we make the experiences become part of who they are, so their learning isn’t just passive, but transformational, so that they get absorbed by the heart, the brain and the body?
I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with my kids this weekend, but I’m also now looking at today and wondering what of my experience will become a lasting part of who I am. It certainly makes me keep my eyes open all the more.