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Experiences > Stuff

July 22, 2011

The basic premise of the Time article Want Happiness? Don’t Buy More Stuff — Go on Vacation is the same as item Seven from my Seven Lessons from a Year on the Road post. Nothing here is new. Researchers have known for many years that experiences make us happier for longer than do things. Shannon and I know it is true from personal experience.

But Time misses some important points, I think. One is the enduring satisfaction of shared experiences. We get to relive these memories over and over again in the telling. And they get better with age. Embarrassing moments become funny. Frightening ones become exciting, or maybe even heroic. Often the best conversations with friends and family begin with the words “remember when?” These shared experiences bind us together in ways that nothing else can.

They also have the capacity to change us and make us better. The best experiences impact us in profound ways. They expand our boundaries; dispel prejudices; vanquish fears; reveal things about others and about ourselves. Through them we learn new skills and gain self confidence. Taken together, they define us. We are our experiences.

As with most things, Mark Twain said it better over 100 years earlier.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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