Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 07 2015

Do You Value Experiences Over Things?

By Mark Sisson
79 Comments

When I look back on my life and take stock of the things that have made and make me happiest, I don’t think about the material objects I’ve procured. I don’t think about the money I’ve made or the cars I’ve owned or the possessions stashed away in my garage. I think about the experiences.

There are the grand adventures: I did Outward Bound when I was 17. It was 28 days of rigorous experiences in the wild of New England — moment to moment instances where I had to “be here now or maybe die” — that majorly shaped the rest of my life, and for which I will be ever grateful. A journey to Europe alone at 22 with a backpack, a Eurail pass, and no agenda or itinerary (before the days of smartphones and apps and online reviews that eliminate the mystery of travel if you let them). The annual 10-day trip I take with my extended family to a part of the world we’ve never been. These are relatively expensive undertakings, and one could say “well, you could have purchased a new car, or updated your wardrobe, or remodeled your bathroom and have had a more ‘practical’ and ‘long-lasting’ use of the investment.” After all, a trip is over when it’s over, but that car will always be in your garage, they say. But the lasting images, feelings, impressions and life lessons of the experiences are always of greatest value to me. And having kids is at the top of that list.

There are the smaller, more private adventures: My friend Eric and I were out paddling one day when we came across a very friendly and interactive pod of dolphins. We see dolphins up close fairly frequently, but these guys really wanted to play, so for 30 minutes we chased them (or they chased us). But, alas, Eric is a dedicated photographer and was agonizing the whole time over the fact that he didn’t have his camera. So as we paddled past his beach house, he bailed on this once in a great while real-time experience to paddle in and retrieve his camera. So he could possess the images on film (or digitally) rather than in his memory. While I continued to play with the dolphins for another 20 minutes, he chronicled it from his front porch. I win.

Or small investments like a fabulous dinner with close friends, a great bottle of wine, and a total disregard for the clock. Traveling with a child to a soccer tournament, or, later, a trip to visit colleges. These all cost money and don’t add to an accumulation of things (the wine is drunk, the food is digested, words shared between friends vanished into the night), but are infinitely more “valuable” when you can pull up the recollection and access the feelings whenever you want.

In my own life, and I suspect in most lives when they actually sit down to consider the issue, the things that change you most, that resonate for a lifetime, are experiences. And although my focus on experiences over things is at odds with the way our societies and economies are constructed, it’s not new. It’s ancient. It goes way back to our essential natures as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Nomads are limited by what they can carry. We don’t have a perfect picture of what life was like for them or what possessions they carried with them, but we can make some strong guesses based on studies of extant nomadic peoples. They have the essentials — food and the tools to procure and prepare more of it, materials to build shelters, vessels for water, baskets, craftworks, maybe some music instruments — and little else. If they want to remain lean and agile and mobile, they can’t be lugging around furniture and wardrobes and TVs. Marlowe’s observations of the Hadza people of Tanzania support this.

Marlowe catalogued Hadza possessions. As you’ll see, there are very few extravagances:

  • Digging sticks
  • Hammerstones
  • Fire drills (used to generate sparks and start fires)
  • Bows
  • Arrows (a half dozen different varieties)
  • Poison (three types)
  • Knives
  • Axes
  • Gourds (as containers for water, honey, coals, and fat)
  • Skins (as clothing and to carry food, make baby slings, and construct shelters)
  • Clothes
  • Art (primarily jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklets)

Nothing requiring vehicles or pack animals. Nothing bulky or onerous enough to make moving camps (which happens around 6-7 times a year) a huge chore or undertaking. Nothing wasted, everything used. There’s no big box of CDs you haven’t listened to in years but still keep lugging around every time you move to a new apartment for some reason that escapes you. No amorphous contractor bags filled with junk and labeled “miscellaneous.”

And that’s how we all lived until about 10000 years ago: as nomads. If it shaped our dietary requirements, I think it’s possible it shaped how we derive happiness and value from the world around us, too.

Modern research confirms the general superiority of experience over material objects. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor out of Cornell, ran a pair of studies in 2003, finding that if you ask people from various demographic groups to reflect on past purchases, they say that buying experiences made them happier than buying material objects. If you ask people to think about making purchases, those who pondered buying an experience rated the process as more positive than those pondering buying a material object.

Buying experiences clearly made people happier than buying material objects. But why?

Experiential purchases provided added value in the form of anticipation. A trip abroad isn’t just the trip. There’s the planning, the fantasizing about the food you’ll eat and the smells you’ll smell and the markets you’ll peruse and the haggling you’ll do, the butterflies you get when you finally pull the plug and receive email confirmation for your plane tickets. For months, you revel in the glow of anticipation and derive happiness and value from that — without even actually having taken the trip yet. Compared to the pleasurable anticipation of experiential purchases, waiting to receive a material purchase is usually an unpleasant experience. What’s better: waiting for your friends to arrive for a dinner party or waiting for the new iPhone to come out?

Even when an experience is negative, you get a good story out of it. That vacation you and your family took in Hawaii where it was rained the entire time and you spent an entire day holed up in the hotel lobby eating Spam might not have been the getaway of your dreams, but it made for a heck of a story when you got back. And when you look back on that trip, you can’t help but laugh to yourself.

No matter how much you like them, materials objects are always separate from you, but your experiences become part of you. In a series of studies, researchers examined how we relate to different types of purchases. When telling their life stories, participants were more likely to mention their experiential purchases than their material purchases. They were more likely to describe experiential purchases to explain their sense of self identity. And when hearing about another person’s purchases, they felt the experiential ones offered greater insight into that person’s true self than the material ones. You are what you do, not what you own.

Deciding on a material purchase is harder and more unpleasant than deciding on an experiential purchase. With material objects, you’re more likely to “ruminate about unchosen objects,” and this makes you less satisfied with the object you choose. The grass is always greener. It’s easier (and less stressful) to decide where to go on vacation than it is to decide whether you want to buy a plasma or LCD television.

You’re more likely to regret paying for a material object. When it comes to experiences, we’re more likely to regret not paying for it. We almost never regret actually going to the concert, checking out the art exhibit, or forking over the money for the plane tickets. But how often have we lamented dropping fifty bucks on the gadget that became obsolete the next day? Things can be replaced, and something better is always around the corner. Not paying for the experience, though, is a missed opportunity.

Okay, all this makes sense, but what about the material objects that really do seem to make us happy? If you really think about it, most of the material objects that confer happiness do so because they enable and enrich our experiences.

The slackline slung between trees in my backyard? It’s a physical object that provides a calming, meditative experiential space for me on a daily basis. I use it to have experiences.

My standup paddle board is absolutely a thing, but it’s enabled countless memorable experiences out on the waves, including the experience with the dolphins that I’ll never forget and constantly revisit.

Books are material objects that convey an experience: you read them.

Food is a thing, but then you prepare it, and it becomes a meal.

A brand new chef’s knife is a material possession that enables the experience of slicing effortlessly through a flat iron steak.

A cookbook holds the promise of months and months of new culinary experiences.

An Olympic weight set is a one time purchase that lasts decades and makes you healthier, stronger, and fitter for the duration.

But you guys get it. Whether it’s the time you invest reading this blog and implementing the changes in your own lives, or the money you spend finally getting a decent commercial mayo or furthering your health and wellness education, you understand the value of experience. Because you’re not merely buying objects. You’re investing in your own health, and a healthy body allows a person to fully engage with the world and obtain experiences without the encumbrance of physical dysfunction.

Yes, you need to have a few “things” for security, but after basic needs are met — healthy and tasty food, comfortable shelter, transportation, companionship, Internet access — there’s not much more reward to the bigger, the better, the faster. A nice new car is great and all, but half the time you’re thinking “Man, I hope I didn’t park my new car too close to that other guy. Now I’m going to worry about a door ding while I shop.” Believe me, I know, because I have a number of bigger, better, faster items in my inventory, and while they provide short term hedonistic hits, the highs don’t last very long, and often you wind up resenting the fact that often these things own you.

So to answer the titular question — What’s better to spend our money on: experiences or things? — I say experiences. By far.

What’s your take, folks? What do you value most — experiences or objects? Do the results of the research, and the lessons of the nomadic Hadza, jibe with your experiences? Or have you regretted your vacations and found lasting happiness through material possessions?

Let me know down below. Thanks for reading!

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79 thoughts on “Do You Value Experiences Over Things?”

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  1. I think it’s partially the difference between short and long term pleasure. Possessions or buying something can be a quick but temporary fix while with experiences most of the joy ends up in the long term memories.

  2. My parents, very rightfully, kicked me out of the house when I was 20. I had nothing. I panicked at first, and then I quickly realized how little I truly needed. All the ‘stuff’ I was worried about was just that. Stuff. I was still happy, healthy, and it was a HUGE attitude adjustment that I desperately needed.

  3. So many people experience things through their cameras. It’s great to share via social media – I do – but really experiencing something is more important.
    My husband and I have just been to the English Lake District for two days. We have now ‘bagged’ 200 of the 214 Wainwright’s peaks there and are on course to finish them all this summer. Our legs ache and our feet are sore but the experience, especially as it was shared, has been awesome.
    (and, yes, I did put some pictures on Facebook!)

  4. Thank you for this post, it’s part of a “New Dawn” and not surprisingly, we in the Primal/Movnat community are part of the spearhead. I completely agree with the vote on experiences having a much much higher Return on Investment than things, other than the basics. As we say south of the border, “I’ve never met a man who was buried with his money”, so let’s spend wisely….

  5. Love it! I am quickly realizing that this is absolute truth. Trips, dinners with friends, golfing with friends, family events, are all more impactful that electronic devices, automobiles, jewelry, etc.

  6. I consider myself fortunate to have been a member of the I-prefer-experiences Club for quite sometime already (at only 40 yo).
    I opt for consumables or concert tickets, etc. for most of my gift choices and only get something material if I have a need for it – and even then that is usually something that enhances my life over the longer term. The consumables rule particularly applies to Christmas stocking gifts after I found myself drowning in imported plastic tat after a couple of years with my hubby who introduced me to the notion of stocking gifts.
    As far as general all round possessions go, I was by far my happiest when I returned to living in a single room as a mature university student – it never took more than a moment to find anything and I loved everything in my possession. Of course, I had the safety net then of having all my stuff in storage. But since that time I have been making inroads to reduce all that stuff. I take a photo now if I feel I want a reminder of the things I have let go – and to act as a timeline for my life.
    Experiences all the way!

  7. I have a perfect example of people cherishing THINGS over experiences: the people moving into the house across from me. Their mother died about 3 weeks ago–I only knew her for about 5 years, and helped with her care during her last days, and hang onto the memory of Maryanne and what I sensed she stood for.

    Meanwhile, a week and many, many truckloads of furniture and decorative crap later, her daughter and son-in-law (who inherited) have turned a pin-neat house into a possessions circus, filling every available nook and cranny into a dust-catching warehouse of useless possessions that they can barely walk through without turning sideways…and they’re STILL bringing stuff over! The attic is crammed, the garage is full, and now, they’re stacking stuff up in the backyard.

    How can 2 people own so much, yet plead poverty when someone mentions “vacation”? The daughter makes fun of me for not owning a dining room table or TV, and I counter with “but I have a freezer”–a chest freezer that sits in my dining room, where my cats can jump on top of it and look out the window. A dining room table around here only gets cluttered up with sewing projects that get left out, never to disappear. We never ate at it–I always sewed at it instead. We always thought a table was something we HAD to have.

    I’ve been to Italy, lived on both coasts of the country, and used to participate in a medieval re-enactment society that had us camping out almost every weekend during the summer. I helped care for 2 elderly ladies in the neighborhood during their last days on earth. I helped care for a cancer patient when he was at his weakest, and couldn’t go to the store to get food for himself, let alone prepare it.

    There are only 2 of us here, and we don’t own much stuff–less stuff in ownership means less stuff to move (which we did every 4 years in the navy). But we are rich in experiences, which I remember more than the nick-nacks and stuff that we once owned because I thought we were supposed to own them–didn’t EVERYBODY? If anything, they taught me a lesson: I learned dust bothers me, so I got rid of the dust-catchers. We ended up moving useless stuff from place to place, never really using it, so we got rid of it instead.

    How much does anybody REALLY need? Memories are stored in your head–not much space taken up, and no dust to accumulate. Certainly no attic or garage to be crammed full, and no need to stack them up in the backyard (unless you count story-telling around the fire pit).

  8. How ironic is it that I just finished a book about this very topic yesterday? Check out Stuffication by James Wallman. I read a review about it on an airplane that was very similar to Mark’s commentary above. The book makes many more points, and goes in to much more detail (history, psychology, etc.). Very good read and very thought provoking.

  9. I love this post! You are preaching to the choir here.

    A loved one very close to me could be considered a hoarder. This has impacted my life for a long time. Additionally, I have lived a relatively “nomadic” life. I’ve never lived anywhere for more than 2.5-3 years. Both of these things have made “stuff” less appealing. In fact, I feel like all that junk is “stuffrocating!”

    I feel like have too many things, but I aim for the same goals. The money I spend on toys, for example, goes to Legos or art supplies. For myself- I either want things that remind me of an experience (a shell from a beach) or enable me to have new experiences.

    Oh. And I love making quilts. Making anything is an experience in and of itself. And then, when a quilt is finished, it begs for people to sit under it together.

  10. When I was young, my family experienced some financial hardships. I don’t have any pictures of me before high school because we lost albums and other possessions when we couldn’t pay storage bills. I used to be sad about that. Honestly, because of that and other lessons from people who place too much of their self worth in things, I have very few attachments to stuff.

    I often tell my wife about experiences and think to myself, a picture would be nice. Not for me, but as a chronicle for my children. I laugh at how often I have to think when someone asks, have you ever been to X or done Y. Many times the answer is yes but it takes a second to retrieve the memory. I’m cool with that. Perhaps those replays will come in handy when I’m older.

    1. You should write these memories down! I’m sure that you children will enjoy your written words at least as much as a picture.

      1. Coincidently, I had that thought this past weekend. I had a birthday Sunday and realized that I statistically have less years ahead of than behind. Not depressing but hella clarifying. (My wife wasn’t excited about that revelation and my calmness about it.) I decided to start a project with my kids (19, 8, 7 & 3). They’ll write my biography. It’s gonna be fun.

  11. When the topic of material possessions and minimalistic living come up, I often think about cds. I like having the music I love, stored on a physical medium with cover art and all, both enabling and almost requiring me to listen to the whole thing. However, both in terms of experiences vs. things, and in terms of transience vs. permanence, it’s not very hunter/gatherer’y; music being recorded and stored is a civilization thing.

  12. I’m on the other end, no question. I love stuff. I’m very particular in the things I buy. Only high-utility items and on entertainment. But I’m always let down by the experiences I have purchased. I’ve been to five or six concerts and none were worth it. “Sightseeing” is an entirely unattractive idea to me. I have never been to such grandiose places as the Grand Canyon or the top of Everest, but based on my past experiences with being a tourist, it was always a disappointment.

    I am greatly introverted in general, so I imagine that may have a lot to do with it. Anyway, cheers.

    1. I’m with you to some extent Adam, I’m also an introvert and although I do enjoy holidays and seeing and experiencing new things and places, I’m a very homely person and derive pleasure from a pretty simple lifestyle. I don’t feel the need to be spending money on fun trips and days out. I tend to find, just like a lot of extrovert preferences, that you can be labelled boring if you don’t see the appeal of high adventure and travelling the world, much in the same way if you don’t like parties.

      1. I am also very much an introvert, and I think this is why I enjoy travel. You can be anonymous in an unfamiliar place – just be part of the background and observe, then participate if you want. You don’t have to feel obligated to do anything if you don’t have friends around who are trying to pressure you into it.

      2. +1. Maybe it depends on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I’m an introvert, dislike parties and, even though I’ve traveled all over the world and lived overseas for several years, those are not my fondest memories. Traveling is, for me, exhausting. Fond memories for me are sitting on the back porch reading a good book and being surprised by hummingbirds coming to some plants I put in my garden. I don’t need a ton of “stuff” but it sure is nice to have the linens my grandmother embroidered and other family momentos, and I’m thankful for a comfy house to call home and the furnishings that make us feel comfortable.

    2. I think that you bring up a good point. Sometimes we are even consumeristic in our experiences. (Ie – a two-week whirlwind trip to Europe…mostly spent sitting on a train. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, but some people travel just as a badge to say they’ve done something – rather than being present in that experience itself).

      I haven’t always had the income to have big experiences, so I haven’t usually gone anywhere amazing. But the thing I notice is there are so many people who ignore what’s right there – in their own backyard, state, country, etc. I live in AZ, and I’m amazed at how many people haven’t gone to the Grand Canyon or don’t know the names of various varieties of plants and local animals.

      Experiences can be had every single day, but I think it depends on our mindset.

    3. Adam, I’m also an introvert (crowds exhaust me), but I love to travel to new places and just “hang out” with the common folk and get to know the local communities. I don’t like “sight seeing” (I’m not much of a tourist), although I will go out of my way to see art galleries, museums and great architecture. Same with nature preserves and certain research facilities (such as the turtle research facility, “museum” in Ventanilla, Oaxaca, Mexico).

      Some of my favorite memories of trips taken involve everyday occurrences and “little weirdnesses” experienced during travel rest days – sometimes just simple interactions provide the best entertainment and enrichment!

      And, no, hubby and I are not into acquiring more “stuff”.

    4. I agree entirely Adam. I’ve been vastly disappointed by pretty much every travel experience. It costs a lot, the airports, planes and just generally feeling lost. Not knowing where anything is. I can’t describe how many disappointing meals I’ve had while traveling. Yeah I got to stare at a nice monument for a few hours but on balance it wasn’t worth all of that.

      Flying makes me extremely anxious and I’ve come to accept that is entirely reasonable. This won’t be a popular opinion but vast amounts of traveling is not a natural thing. Grok didn’t have a plane. I have found that materialistic people and travelers think they are very different but they are not. It’s never enough for either of them. If you’re constantly looking for the next cool place to visit, how different are you from the guy always looking for the next luxury item?

      I work in my garden, walk the same trails multiple times and have what many would consider a very boring routine but I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been and that’s because I’m content and at peace. People who think they need experiences or vacations or possessions are all looking for something outside of themselves when personally I think the answer is to stop looking and just be.

  13. This reminds me of what I remind my son of “people are more important than things” when something gets damaged by a person. It’s sad to lose the use of a toy but it’s worse to lose the friend who didn’t mean to do it or who did and then will feel bad about it.

    10 years from now, will I care about that “thing” or that person? The thing can get stolen, burn up in a fire, etc. People and experiences with them are what we really want to keep.

    1. Your comment reminds me that I don’t like to own things that would upset me if it was broken, ruined, lost or stolen. Since I am not a wealthy person, I like to buy what I need on sale, at second hand stores or garage sales or make it myself. Seems like I spend most of our money on quality food. I have a few family pieces that I feel the guardian of and hope they can be passed on to the next generation but that is it for precious things.

      I too remind myself when “things” get ruined, that people are more important than things. Even when I ruin them myself.

  14. I experience enjoyment in the use of my big, plasma TV almost every night for an hour or so. Is it a focus of attachment? Yes, to some degree. But then, so so a lot of my memories disturb my meditation.

  15. Experience all the way! “If I can’t eat it, wear it, or drink it; I don’t want it,” was my personal credo when young. I dropped out of University after 3 years, joined the Foreign Service and ended up half the world away from Columbus, Ohio in Colombo, Ceylon on my ability to type 35 words a minute. Oh the adventures I had, travel to Kathmandu, Singapore, New Delhi, Europe. Years later I’ve settled down with a wonderful husband who likes to travel too. We’re retired and we’ve travelled. Now we are older, our travel is restricted. I’m so grateful that we travelled when we could. We live in a house with stuff. I don’t want any more stuff. My car is 20 years old. It works like a toaster. You turn it on, it goes. Here is a new thought: even memories are baggage. They shift and turn and don’t hold still. My current pleasure is found in living in the everlasting NOW! If I can’t travel, Yoga, listening to music, doing Tai Chi, making love, talking with my ancient mother, eating good, fatty, tasty fresh food are where I find my pleasure . What a life! Love this post. Thanks Mark and all on this website.

  16. NEITHER I am going to be on this planet a very very short time….I don’t think I will take any of it home with me so I try not to get overly attached to any thing or experience unless it is an experience that brings God glory…

    1. Agree we are all going to be here for a very short time. The question is what will we do in this short time to build our character as we will not take the stuff with us but our character will live on. To me our experiences helps build our character. Our experiences of helping others, doing good for the society, spreading the Word, seeing the beauty of this world all help build our character to prepare us for the eternal future.

  17. Oh, those Hazda… take the tools AND the bling!
    My kind of nomads. ????

  18. When I cleaned out my closet yet again over the holiday, I realized that I’m just exhausted with collecting “things”. Each purchase and each decision to donate what I purchased becomes an exercise of acquisition and surrender. It’s the pushmepullyu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Dolittle_characters) of life in the 21st century.

    The mere thought of replacing one thing with another as something wears out or is outgrown tires me out. The constant cogitation about what to eat and where to get it becomes nerve wracking to the point of making me detest meal planning. I no longer want to plan the “best” dinner or make the “best” bread. I just want to sustain myself.

    I’m fifty-seven years on this planet and finally getting to the point where I can look forward to NOT being in the race to get the best and most things. I am arriving at the point where the size of my closet is not as important as the size of my heart.

  19. When I cleaned out my closet yet again over the holiday, I realized that I’m just exhausted with collecting “things”. Each purchase and each decision to donate what I purchased becomes an exercise of acquisition and surrender. It’s the Pushmepullyu (a Doctor Doolittle character) of life in the 21st century.

    The mere thought of replacing one thing with another as something wears out or is outgrown tires me out. The constant cogitation about what to eat and where to get it becomes nerve wracking to the point of making me detest meal planning. I no longer want to plan the “best” dinner or make the “best” bread. I just want to sustain myself.

    I’m fifty-seven years on this planet and finally getting to the point where I can look forward to NOT being in the race to get the best and most things. I am arriving at the point where the size of my closet is not as important as the size of my heart.

  20. Mark, this was your most beautiful post yet. I loved the whole thing!
    Experiences are by far the best!
    And on the flip side of spending money, I have never regretted money I didn’t spend on things, but I have regretted money I didn’t spend on experiences: weddings I’ve missed, trips with friends not taken all because I was afraid to spend a little bit. Of course, I’m not saying I’ve become cavalier with my money, but when the experience comes along, I really take the time to evaluate whether or not I can afford an experience now before I just dismiss it. Experiences are irreplaceable! Thanks for the reminder.

  21. I love some experiences, but others, not as much. I don’t really enjoy traveling and I HATE booking travel. For some reason, with my friends and family the planning always comes down to me. It is a lot of pressure because if anyone has a bad time, it’s my fault for picking the destination/flight/hotel/whatever. No thanks.

    Now, cooking with friends, family parties, mixing drinks, learning a new skill, that stuff is 100% up my alley and I love it all.

    I also love my house though. It’s a physical thing. I’ve spent a lot of time choosing the furnishings and art and I feel joy every day when I walk through my house. That is probably far too material for many posters here, but it’s true for me.

    1. I agree – booking travel can be very stressful, especially when trying to please a group or sticking to a budget. My type A personality also gets uncomfortable when certain details aren’t researched enough in advance.

      1. I have a friend who is presently sending me photos from her trip to Germany. She is visiting museums, churches and palaces. I am appreciative of her journey but ever so grateful it is not me on the trip.

        Travel, especially if it involves flying is stressful for me. Not the flying part but everything that goes with it. At some point I usually fine myself close to tears in some airport. It takes a lot to pry me out of my house to fly off to some destination. I don’t think I would mind going to some other culture and staying for awhile and learning something tangible or helping out in some way but traveling….not so much.

  22. This is a great post! Mark’s story of the dolphins reminded me of an experience my daughter and her husband had in Hawaii two weeks ago.
    She said they were swimming at a beach in Kauai when a big sea turtle appeared and swam along with them for a bit. My first thought was “Oh too bad you didn’t have a waterproof camera” — but she has a unique memory most likely made better because she wasn’t trying to take pictures!

  23. I can definitely see both sides. I think it can be a little unfair to make people feel guilty about getting happiness from acquiring things. I do love travelling, and I’ve lived/worked/studied in multiple countries exploring cultures, people and local food, which will always hold great memories. On the other side, about 5 years ago I saved up money and bought myself a nice car. To this day I still am very happy getting into it each morning to drive to work. My nice car makes me happy, and I have no problem admitting it. I could’ve paid half the cost to get an average car, but I am so proud to drive my friends or run errands in a car that I worked hard to purchase. A few weeks ago someone backed up into my car, and I was ok with it. I got it fixed. I recognize it’s an object. So I think it’s a balance. As long as we don’t let objects run our lives, we should be ok purchasing both things and experiences to acquire happiness.

  24. I really enjoy simple, low-key experiences like cooking/sharing a nice dinner at home, watching a movie or TV show together, going for a walk, playing with the kid, etc. I guess this is known as everyday life 🙂

    And this post reminds me of how weighted down I feel by THINGS. I am so looking forward the salvation army pickup at our house this week. Somehow, even without buying things, we’ve ended up with way too many things in our home.

  25. You mean nomads didn’t have hemp backpacks and burlap-based sandals? My vegan friends will be crushed.

  26. There is a great amount of desire lately for travel and experiences. Fear of missing out is one result.

  27. Look at it this way: Buying things keeps a lot of people employed, so I can’t criticize people who enjoy acquiring things.

    That said, I’ve never been much of a shopper/buyer. We have a comfortable home, but the furnishings aren’t new and I don’t plan to replace them any time soon. Same for the two cars. They run and that’s good enough for me. I hate buying clothes and will wear the same stuff until it’s ready to fall apart. I don’t even like to shop for groceries, although it’s a necessity. I am a born minimalist and prefer not to contribute to the landfills any more than I have to.

    Experience-wise I’ve had a full cup. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel worldwide. My memories and the photos taken are my souvenirs. Trinkets, dust-collectors, and the like have never been important to me.

  28. Haha….I love that they carried poison! I have said to myself many times that I want an adventure to go on where I have to carry snake antivenom.

    For now though…I dream and drool over our 2 week road trip this June where we leave Canada, land in LAX and jump in a campervan for 2 weeks of unplanned adventure along the coast to Seattle and back. SUP, yes! Dolphins too….that would make it worth every penny!!!

  29. Travel snobbery is another result for many. “What’s your country count? I travel many months out of every year, what about you? Only a couple of weeks!?”

    1. I avoid a particular group of former co-workers who can only compare cruises and criticize the cruise lines. 😉

  30. I couldn’t agree more with today’s post. Two years ago my wife and I moved out of our 4000 square foot house and into 1800 on 5 acres. We would rather experience the outside then buy more stuff to fill rooms we didn’t use. This year we purchased 10 acres and are building a 1000 square foot house because we found we didn’t use have of the “smaller” 1800 sq ft home.
    The thing we have both noticed is the healthier we are, the less attracted, or distracted we are by all the junk the average sheeple find so necessary. I will take a great day outside enjoying nature and a wonderful meal with friends over the baby grand that sat in our living room that no one played. ( but it looked really cool).

  31. Great observation, Mark! Hubby and I have freedom to do things together and also persue personal interests apart. We’ve done some traveling and are happy to have our own little home. My husband loves to collect things and is loathe to let go of anything, while I have evolved to declutter and repurpose things and enjoy the serenity of not being possessed by “stuff”. Needless to say, my mission to keep a neat house is a job.

  32. Perfecting timing Mark. Greatly appreciated as I am currently considering an opportunity to live internationally for a year travelling to 12 countries while working remotely for my current employer. The stress of preparing to leave is energizing, motivating and daunting. Ironically the unpleasant stress surrounds my material possessions I would be leaving behind; their management and security while I am gone and unable to use them. My home, my two cars, “my stuff”. In this context it is easy to see that my possessions aren’t adding value but subtracting. It’s been very fun to start to optimize my payload for a year of international jet-setting. It has already prompted great vigor in my local, current, spring-cleaning purge!

  33. I definitely like the experience over the material, but I was thinking about, what if any, recent purchases had any real meaning for me. We are currently spending thousands on new bathrooms but what was much more meaningful was the $500 for a new snowboard. It is a”rocker” snowboard that advanced my ability, speed and confidence and therefor my experience on the mountain. Of course I am always riding with friends and family so it is a win-win.

  34. Yes, couldn’t agree more. I’ve found I am just naturally gravitating to many of the ways of being in Primal Connection as I heal my body more and more with real food and avoid toxics.

    I don’t meditate intentionally yet, much. But just more and more in the present as just my way of being now.

    And part of the switch has been valuing experiences more. I hope everyone has had a vacation or vacations that can keep giving deep pleasure years or decades after having lived them.

    Experiences are where’s at.

  35. Experiences by far feed my soul more than things. But certain objects have given me a lot of pleasure also, and thinking about it neither has to be big ticket items.

    I think a lot of it has to do with whether or not you are a person of contentment. Discontented people buy lots of stuff to fill a void, and tend to find fault with their experiences maybe because they place such an unrealistic expectation that this trip, or that event will make them happy and then when it doesn’t, they are bitter.

    I remember the ‘shopping ladies’ who were on an Italian tour with us, and they complained all the time. The bus ride took too long, it rained in Florence etc. and all they could talk about over dinner was what they had bought. I did my best to avoid sitting near them, because they cast a dark cloud over the experience.

    And recently I happened to mention in passing to an acquaintance that we had created a backyard fire pit and had enjoyed sitting by it and just talking the evening away. And they started asking questions, like ‘what kind of hardscape material had we used?’ and it occurred to me that they were thinking we had done some huge magazine worthy outdoor space, when what we had done was plunk some rocks in a circle in the middle of a muddy space in the yard and surrounded them with cheap plastic chairs.

    And I knew that they wouldn’t get it if I tried to explain that it wasn’t about a perfectly built structural form. But the function of feeling the elemental fire and watching the embers undulate as it died down, and a sense of complete and utter peace of sitting there resting after having spent the entire afternoon moving loads of branches and logs from in and around the wooded part of our property. It was about being outside and in the woods and working beside my husband and hearing the bull frogs and seeing the sliver of moon. So I didn’t even try, but I have a feeling you would get this, Mark. Thanks for the post!

  36. One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve been enjoying lately is when my 9mo daughter falls asleep cuddled up on my chest. It definitely puts a lot of things into perspective for me especially when I get caught up in ‘making a living’.

    1. I miss those cuddled-up-baby days.
      Definitely an experience I wouldn’t trade for any “thing.”

  37. Wow, I must be an outlier. I don’t care about experiences at all, I’d much rather buy an 80″ flat screen tv than a trip to Hawaii or wherever. To each their own I suppose.

    1. Oh well. An 80″ tv? Sure but where do I put it? it would lead to having to have a bigger space. 😉

  38. My grandparents lived during and in the great wars of the European continent. They had homes, farms and businesses taken from them. I remember my grandmother saying, “What you know is the only thing that cannot be taken from you.” This concept is far from the standard American mind but very real to the human experience. Being fluent in three languages is much more valuable than a home with a three car garage. Experience, wisdom and knowledge over stuff hands down.

  39. I have actively begun reducing my “things”… I am three “spring cleanings” in (in just under 2 years) and it feels great! I plan to keep going. And while you can keep the experience of having kids (just not for me)… I do plan to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo for 3 laps around Atlanta Motorsports Park next weekend. Trying to get more experiences in… heeheeeeeeeeee. In all seriousness, I really am trying to DO more than own more in the future. I am 100%positive it will be the right move.

  40. Today our beloved family dog had to be put down. He was old and sick but up to his last day he knew to give love and joy. Experience or better memories is all that is left now and worth more than all we own. We have to treasure all these good moments with loved ones for they are all that will be left one day.

  41. I think there’s a definite balance with this, and I’ll admit my scale tips toward the experiences side. But I also like to have nice things, I like my apartment to feel like a home, and I want it to be a place that I want to spend time, either alone or with friends. So, I might splurge and purchase a nice couch that could double as a crashpad–but I wouldn’t trade in a 42″ flatscreen for a 50″ smart TV. I’ll sometimes look at the newest, latest, greatest “stuff” available and think about how nice it would be to have it, but eventually I look at the price tag and think “yikes, I could buy a plane ticket to Bermuda with that!”

    Experiences, yes. Making your house a home? Yes to that too. The good news is I have learned over the years I need much less than I thought I did, so it makes it easier to indulge in the things you really know you want/need.

  42. In 2008 we sold our home and most of our possession to move into a motorhome and go touring this country. Now we are back in a 2-bedroom apartment and I can’t believe how much energy it takes to keep this place clean. And we don’t have much in it. I miss living in such a tiny space where cleaning was rarely on my radar and the view (and activities available) out the windows changed often.

  43. I agree with the post, but have to add planned vacation packages are more trinket then experience. You need to jump the park fence for it to be an experience, standing in line doesn’t count.

  44. Thanks for another great article Mark!

    I spent a ‘gap-year’ in South America amidst political turmoil, travelled around Europe, the US and parts of Asia; those experiences and more have made me; not the crap I buy and end up having to cull when moving house!

    As far as ‘stuff’ goes, Less is more I think.

  45. Thanks for another great article Mark!

    I spent a ‘gap-year’ in South America amidst political turmoil, travelled around Europe, the US and parts of Asia; those experiences and others have made me; not the crap I buy and end up having to cull when moving house!

    Bumping into you and other Primal folks at the recent THR1VE seminar was another experience I’ll never forget.

    As far as ‘stuff’ goes, Less is more I think.

  46. I have 5 grandchildren ranging from 8 months to 7 years. I learned early on that purchased material gifts lose significance in the abundance of gifts from Santa, birthdays, and other occasions. I decided I would give each grandchild a gift of experience for their birthdays. There was initial envy from the siblings until the tradition took hold, and now it’s something they look forward to every year. I tailor the experience to the child, and I get to enjoy it all: pony camp, Disney Frozen on Ice, rock climbing, and more. They’ll forget who gave them which Barbie or which Lego set, but they won’t forget taking a steam locomotive ride with Grandma. For Christmas, I do it differently but still emphasize the experience. I take each grandchild separately to the store of their choice in January with a pre-set budget. They love this tradition because they can either supplement something they received for Christmas or purchase something they had wanted and not received. We walk every aisle at leisure, adding and deleting items from the cart, doing the math, and making a final decision. They’re not used to having the luxury of time and decision-making, and the shopping itself is the experience. We complete the day by going to an ice cream parlor for a big sundae. Both traditions are a win-win scenario that have created wonderful bonding and lifelong memories.

  47. Was trying to decide whether to go back to Italy next year. After reading your article…we’re going. Thanks for the input sir!

  48. So am I the only one who finds that some material possessions enhance my memory of an experience I’ve had? Cuz I have kind of a poor memory and I often forget entirely about things that have happened to me until I discover a trinket I collected which is tied in some way to that experience.

    The beat up old baseball cap that I wear everywhere on nearly every occasion is from a trip I took with my brother and a friend one summer 12 years ago. We spent a week going to various amusement parks in our part of the country and also visiting the surrounding local attractions. I got the hat at the end of that trip and even with frequent wear it still reminds me of that experience and the person I was at that time.

    I have a definite attachment to that object and I know it keeps my memory fresher than it would be otherwise. Perhaps it’s because it makes me think of that trip more often than I might if I never picked it up in the first place. I suspect it’s a bit more than that though as I’ve definitely had other experiences of finding an object buried in my closet that I haven’t seen in years and simply holding it in my hands brings back a flood of memories.

    That sensation can be mild or intense depending upon the treasure I’ve discovered. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be tied directly to an experience. It can just be from a particular time in my life, like an issue of Nintendo Power that I had back in the fourth grade. Leafing through the pages of this magazine can remind me of so many people and experiences that I haven’t thought of in years. It reminds me a bit of what it was like to be a 9 year old kid and helps me feel a glimmer of what it was like when I still had childlike joy in my life. Haha. And it’s just a silly magazine about video games.

    All of this isn’t to say that people don’t accumulate loads of junk they really don’t need. I wouldn’t argue that there’s an appeal to living simply without lots of superfluous consumer products. Perhaps there’s room for balance though and it’s not necessary to eschew all earthly possessions that don’t serve a specific purpose in our survival.

  49. 2 ironies of life:

    You can never take material things with you to the grave.

    Experiences always follow you to the grave.

  50. Wow, I loved this! I definitely prefer experiences to things. Even when my husband and I were traveling with our kids when they were young, we bought few if any souvenirs. They will remember swimming with the sting rays, not some dumb t-shirt that says “Cayman Islands.” However, that being said, when it comes to stuff I definitely prefer quality over quantity. I would rather have a few nice things that I really cherish. Thanks for a great post! Judging from the many responses this one really hit home with people.

  51. “Something weird is happening, and I want it to be happening to me” -Zaphod

    One of my favorite quotes from a Douglas Adams book. Experiences are absolutely more valuable than things (although consumer electronics are a close second). Even if that experience sucks at the time, it will eventually be of more value to you than your awesome collection of Fast and Furious movies on Blu-Ray.

  52. We’re tired of stuff we never look at or use, and lugging it from apartment to apartment. We’re getting rid of a lot of excess material possessions and have made a lot of progress in the past 3 years. It’s very freeing to get rid of the weight of all that junk that has no use. We’re striving toward “If we don’t use it, then we don’t need it. Give it away or toss it out if it’s of no use to anyone.”

  53. Unlike many others here who seem to like getting experiences from traveling, I prefer to stay at home. Almost all my money goes into my animals, a cat, guineapigs and a horse. In their presence I get an endless stream of precious experiences. My parents always ask me, why I’m doing this (instead of buying things) and I could never really answer. Now suddenly it is clear to me that it must be the experiences I get in their presence. Just yesterday I was riding into the sunset until it was dark and I felt such an inner peace and harmony and I knew my horse felt the same. It’s definitely worth spending the money and I know now why I’m doing it.

  54. I need to keep better track of your articles.

    When I moved to Texas to work for a supplement company, I got home sick and wanted to return home to Kentucky.

    My wife and I agreed that anything that wouldn’t fit in the cars couldn’t come. It was a sort of possession detox and it was highly gratifying.

    I still have too much stuff now and could do with less, but there’s something about the comfort of nostalgia that keeps a handful of things around.

    Could have worse problems than that 😉