Why ‘Buy Experiences, Not Things’ Is Bad Advice

Chasing ‘amazing’ experiences can be just another form of materialism

Dawn Teh
Forge
Published in
3 min readSep 23, 2019

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Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

WWe’re over buying stuff, aren’t we? Tons of people have already cleared out half of their possessions after binging Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. “Materialistic” is an insult (sorry, Madonna). “Minimalist” is a compliment.

These days, we’re all about racking up experiences instead: traveling the world, attending music festivals, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants. Happiness, it seems, is no longer found in expensive purses and fast cars, but in getting out and exploring, trying, doing. Research backs up the “experience advantage.” Studies have shown that we bond over experiences more easily than over material things, derive more long-term satisfaction from experiences, and can link experiences to our identity in a more meaningful way.

And yet there is a dark side of this push toward experiences that too often goes undiscussed. After hugging a dolphin or taking a segway tour through Times Square, why are you left either feeling a little empty, or anxious to chase the next “amazing” thing? Why does the thrill quickly fade away?

Because we’re doing it wrong. “We’ve turned experience itself into a product,” writes psychotherapist Nancy Colier in Psychology Today. “No longer ‘in’ life or part of the stream of life, we consume our experiences like we would any other object.” We believe that chasing experiences instead of material things will bring us a deeper sense of emotional fulfillment. But once the initial excitement of an experience subsides, the moment ends up being stashed away in our minds, and it’s on to the next shiny new experience that captures our attention. And the cycle continues.

Clinical psychologist Mark B. Borg Jr., PhD., author of Don’t Be A D-ck: Change Yourself, Change Your World, explains that any time we look for fulfillment in something outside of ourselves — be it material or experiential — it’s still materialism. And often, materialism is a sign of looking for happiness in the wrong places.

“Are we using the ‘amazing’ experience, as we once used the bag and the car, to compensate for feelings of inferiority?” Borg says. “Do we overvalue ‘amazing’ experiences because they defend…

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Dawn Teh
Forge
Writer for

Freelance Writer | Ex-psychologist writing about health, mindset, and human flourishing. Let's talk: dawn.teh@pennedcopywrite.com