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How the Internet has got ‘Happiness’ all wrong

happiness this way 1024x576 - How the Internet has got 'Happiness' all wrong

“Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things”

– Internet

How many times have you come across this line or some other version of it on the internet? You can surely thank the Tourism and Hospitality industry for it. After all its this industry that makes profit when you plan a trip to Dubai instead of buying the latest iPhone.

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I have nothing against the industry making profits. My problem is how this World-dominating-internet-campaign of “Experiences over Things” has messed up our understanding of ‘Happiness’. The reality is, when you buy stuff it surely does make you happy be it a phone, a car, a gaming console, the latest gadget or even a book! A further counter to this comes in the form of another (not so) World-dominating-internet-campaign of ‘minimalism’. It preaches how you should live on bare minimum and instead spend on, you guessed it, experiences! In its strongest form, minimalism can make you feel guilty for buying things and not experiences.

But to think of it, aren’t experiences another form of materialism? Are you not stacking up your experiences by checking things off of your bucket list and collecting ‘bragging-rights-coins’? Although I must bring this up that experiences, just like things, surely do make you happy! So why create an either-or relationship between things and experiences. Its your money and you should spend on whatever you feel like, be it a brand new DSLR or a trip to the Phi Phi islands.

Let’s Talk Happiness

Now this blog would have safely ended here if I didn’t want to touch the most important component of the equation – Happiness. The internet wants you to believe how people who buy experiences are happier than those who buy things (and the internet tells that to you with a beautifully captured, color corrected and adequately photoshopped image of Santorini in the background).

people who spend on experiences not things are happier - How the Internet has got 'Happiness' all wrong

Regardless of the image, isn’t happiness what we are all after? Isn’t happiness the one word answer to heavyweight questions like – What’s the most important thing in life? Or what’s the purpose of your life? Happiness, being intangible, is difficult to measure and thus we can’t be 100% sure if things or experiences bring more of it along. Now this is where I want to bring in my perspective of happiness and for full disclosure it is heavily inspired by a lot of reading-and-watching that I have done over the years but most significantly by the 2011 documentary called Happy and the books Man’s Search for Meaning and Stumbling on Happiness.

What’s your default Happiness score?

All of us tend to have a default score of Happiness. This is dependent on several factors like our life events, family background and upbringing among others. So if you are usually cheerful, on a 1 to 10 happiness scale (1 being least happy) you could have a default score of 6 in your day-to-day life. But if you usually feel stressed out and would rather watch an emotional melodrama instead of a comedy, your default score could be on the lower side. This default everyday score is who we are when it comes to happiness. Things or experiences can boost or cause a dip in these scores for a few days, weeks or months but eventually you will come back to your default score. Eventually the iPhone loses its novelty. Eventually you forget all the details of that Dubai trip. Eventually you get over your ex. Eventually you get back to your default score. When they say, “Time heals all wounds”, this is the point of reference.

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An important question here should be how do we increase our default happiness score. More experiences or more things? None. If you missed the point, experiences and things are good for a short term high. The aforementioned sources agree that the one thing that increases our default happiness score is – Helping Others.

The Ultimate Happiness – Helping Others

By selflessly helping others we start to feel better about ourselves. We are elated that we have been able to bring about a difference. It helps us stay happier, more focused and in fantastic overall mental health. It raises our default happiness score. Helping others isn’t limited to financially helping the poor, it can be something as small as helping someone cross the road, giving up your seat while on public transport to someone who needs it more, feeding a stray dog or getting yourselves a pet dog and looking after it. It can also be something as big as solving a problem with your product or service (and making money in the process).

Even the opposite is true. We feel unhappy when we aren’t able to help people in need. Think of the second covid wave in India, how helpless and unhappy we felt because we weren’t able to do anything for those in need of oxygen, hospital beds and medicines.

So while checking stuff off in your bucket list and getting yourselves the latest model of Smart TV is great, helping others is the only long term route to happiness.

PS: If you have come this far, you will be interested in the Book Summary video of Man’s Search for Meaning

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