To be happy, invest in experiences and relationships

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from Barbara Gabbrielli And Gerardo Antonelli

Does money make you happy? True up to a point, it depends on what you buy. Is in the panel of the infinite choices that the consumer society offers, science traces the right way to follow: to be happy better to spend on experiences than on goodsrecommends a twenty-year study of Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University. His theorem is that the gratification given by things disappears quickly, for three essential reasons: an object generates immediate boredom (we get used to what we have almost immediately), growing expectations (new purchases lead to wanting other better ones) and inevitable comparisons ( there is always someone who has something better than us). It is the so-called “paradox of happiness”coined by Richard Easterlina professor of economics at the University of California, who demonstrated years ago, numbers in hand, that happiness increases with wealth up to a certain point, before it stops or stays the same.

We are what we do

Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia has studied the theme of happiness linked to the purchase of that very expensive pair of shoes, the latest iPhone, the designer sofa. And not surprisingly, she called it a “pool of pleasure”: it evaporates quickly, and in the end it always leaves us a little dissatisfied. We might as well use the money to go to the cinema, to the theater, to play sports or to go on a nice trip. Activities that certainly cost, but they are money well spent because it invests in ourselves, in our ability to be better in the world. “Each experience, be it small or large, leads to learning, sharing, knowing, discovering: they are all central actions in the life of each of us, which set our possibilities to be in motion. They are therefore an integral part of our identity ”, he explains Giovanni Sirifull professor of psychology and scholar of consumer psychology.

As Gilovich states, we are not what we own, rather we are the set of things we do, of what we see, of the places we visit. «Another note of satisfaction: the value of an experience cannot be quantified. It is a unique fact for that person, impossible to make comparisons », the psychologist resumes. Not to mention the exciting pleasure it gives to plan a weekend like a tennis match, a different emotion from the shopping frenzy. The events lived, then, do not last long, so their “price” grows over time, through memories. Each one fixes them as he wants. Unlike that dress, dear, which has been in the closet for years to remind us that it wasn’t worth throwing so much money away.

The lesson of the Millennials and Z generations …

In short, existence must be to be fulfilling “full” rather than objects of experience. «I have understood this well millennials younger and the Gen Zit seems, even more so. It is the generations that have “fully taken” the economic crisis»Says Siri. «Forced to navigate between uncertainty and degrowth, they have given more space to the experiential dimension, because it is an open, stimulating situation that can be personalized and experienced regardless of financial availability. Their greater autonomy from fashions and brands, the more autonomous and informal search for what they buy, the use of exchange and barter between them, the interest in using goods and not so much in owning them, these orientations are now well attested by research on consumption in these generational segments », Siri affirms. That this is the end of the illusion of happiness linked to goods theorized by the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman in Consumption, therefore I am (Laterza, 12 €)?

… And that of pandemic and war

“The pandemic, the war and, probably soon, also the climate crisis (see the risks of a consistent drought in Italy already this year) are pushing everyone, from people to companies through governments, to a overall rethinking»Says Professor Siri. “If the logic of an economy based on obsessive” monetary “growth is questioned on the institutional level and by the Nobel Prize winners themselves, even reaching a self-criticism of the capitalist system, on a personal level the quality of daily experience, the importance of relationshipsrediscovering a longer-term perspective with respect to career compulsiveness, consumption and immediate hedonism, shift the direction in which happiness is sought.

However, precisely these dramatic circumstances also show us how indispensable it is for institutions and people to find a synergy, and the mutual trust between state and citizens is reborn from the now long-lasting separation between private and public. A future of well-being cannot be built by taking refuge in the private sector. The reaction of empathy and help offered by so many people who come together to help is a good sign, shows that “giving” to others can be a good way to spend to buy something good for ourselves. We hope it is a seed and not a temporary emotional reaction ”, concludes the expert.

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