A Proven Way to More Happiness

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We know that travel comes with a host of great benefits: unplug from the daily minutiae, you get to spend time and reconnect with people you love; rekindle that flame you put aside while taking care of your family; you get to see new things and try new things; you get to relax away from the pressures of work; you get the thrill of realizing dreams you may have had for years and years.

There’s a great quote that states that travel is the only thing you can buy that leaves you richer. As it turns out, travel is the best way to spend your money. Can you believe it? Does it sound too good to be true? Of all the things you can buy, the experience of traveling gives you, by far, the most bang for your buck. All these great elements of travel have been proven to make people happier. This is especially true when you’re talking about children. Travel experiences bring their textbooks to life. It gives them experiences that they can’t get from a book.

Even more than that, every part of the travel experience — before, during, and after — is more satisfying, more enjoyable, and has longer-lasting positive effects than buying stuff.

In 2003, Thomas Gilovich published his landmark study called To Do or to Have – That is the Question”– a study that, more than a decade on, continues to influence social psychology and the study of what brings us true contentment. Gilovich looked at how economic choices affect well-being and analyzed the differences between experiential and material purchases on human happiness. His unexpected discovery has changed the way we look at our buying habits: Across the board, doing things makes people way happier than having things.

The reason for this is that we get to live and re-live the joy of experiences through memories and photographs. Buying an expensive TV or even a new car gives a momentary spike in good feelings that lasts for a few days. If something happens to them, they have almost become disposable – a sort of planned obsolescence. You go out and buy new. But when you take an amazing trip, you get the memories and the good time together — and every time you think of that trip, or you see something that reminds you of it, a smell of a scent that was in the air wherever you were, or you look at the picture on your wallpaper, your brain registers those joyful times and releases mood-enhancing endorphins that make you feel like you’re re-living the happiness of the experience itself. It stays with you, and you get to access it whenever you want.

It’s not like we need another reason to start planning that dream trip — but another study that Gilovich co-authored has found that even the anticipation of experiences outdoes the lead-up to material purchases. People waiting in line to get tickets to an event are happier and more excited than those who are waiting in line to buy something.

So, even something as boring as waiting in line is more fun when it’s connected to your travel experience. But it makes sense when you think of it, doesn’t it? You’re waiting to, say, get your passport photo taken, and associated with that time are thoughts of where you’re going to go, what you’re going to see, and all the adventure that awaits. Or you’re sitting at the pool bar at the all-inclusive resort where you’re staying is preferable than sitting in a crowded bar at home. When you’re planning that trip with your agent, you get to make progress, take steps towards realizing your dream, and each step is actually a part of the adventure itself.

As travelers, we know the many positive benefits of getting out and seeing the world. Now we can feel even better knowing that those benefits continue to improve our lives, long after the trip is over. Our vacation memories make us happy. So I ask again, are you happy?

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