Everyone says money can’t buy happiness, but research shows that it actually can. The key to money buying you happiness is to spend your money on experiences rather than material things. That said, let's talk about why you should collect moments not things, plus seven ideas for actually doing it.
Why does collecting moments not things matter?
Research on happiness shows that buying material things — even really large material things, such as your dream car— has no real impact on your overall happiness. It may satisfy you temporarily, but you’ll return to your baseline happiness once the shine wears off.
On the other hand, spending money on experiences leads to more, prolonged levels of happiness both before, during, and after consumption.
It sounds ironic — the idea that happiness fades away with items that last forever and lasts forever with experiences that fleet. But the research doesn’t lie. Even if you spend more time using a material item than you do an experience, the experience leads to more happiness.
Here are a few more reasons why collecting moments not things is key to boosting your happiness:
Memories and experiences shape your identity
Your life is defined by the experiences you have — not by the material items you keep. When you’re old and gray, you’ll look back on your scrapbook of experiences as nostalgic past times and an endless source of joy and happiness. As you go through life, remembering to collect moments not things can help you have fewer regrets.
Collecting moments not things connects you with others
When you collect moments not things, you create shared experiences with other people — whether it’s your family or a random group of strangers at a concert. This connection you feel with others is one reason why collecting moments not things is so important. When you feel connected and plugged into a community, you're happier.
You’re a more open-minded, intelligent, and outgoing person when you collect moments not things
Think of the most interesting person you’ve ever met. They likely fascinated you with stories about past experiences they’ve had. Maybe they ran a marathon in Greece, climbed Mt. Whitney, or learned to speak fluent Spanish. It’s their experiences that make them seem intelligent and outgoing — not the fact that they own a BMW or splurged on an expensive purse.
These experiences are what you chat about at the dinner table, what you reminisce on when you're catching up with friends. Even if they weren’t super great experiences in the moment, they often lead to memorable stories.
You have less buyer’s remorse when you collect moments not things
We live in a world full of options. Want a new laptop? Good luck sorting through the thousands of varieties on the market. Want a pint of ice cream? Congrats, you’ve got 100 options just at one store!
Even if you spend HOURS researching and comparing products, it’s easy to second guess if you made the right choice. But experiences are harder to compare. And as a result, you’re less likely to regret them. After all, that trip to the beach seemed like the perfect choice when the alternative was sitting at home doing nothing.
Still not convinced? Give this "collect moments not things" exercise a try
If you're still not convinced collecting moments not things is important, give this short exercise a try:
- Think about one material thing you bought recently because you thought it would make you happier — such as a new car, a piece of jewelry, or a new gadget.
- Now think of one experience you purchased recently, such as a vacation, a concert, or a unique dining experience.
Which purchase made you happier?
For most people, reflecting on past experiential purchases puts you in a better mood than reflecting on past material purchases. Even if you spent just a few bucks on an experience, it can give you more satisfaction than if you bought a material item of the same value.
Plus, sometimes we tend to try to fill a void with things only to find out it's emptying our wallets and not filling our needs!
7 Ways to collect moments not things
So, how can you collect moments not things? Here are seven of our favorite ideas:
1. Create a bucket list
You’re 42% more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it down. So, why not make a list of all the ways you want to collect memories not things this year?
Call it a bucket list, a new year's resolution, or even life goals. Whatever you want! The point is to make a list of all the experiences you want to have in the coming months and years, so you can plan for them.
Some of these experiences could be large — like going on your dream honeymoon vacation. Others could be small — like taking a weekend trip to a neighboring state, going backpacking for the first time, or attending a local concert.
What would you put on your list?
2. Add a “fun money” category to your budget so you can use it to collect memories not things
Building fun, guilt-free money into your budget is just as important as building in money for bills and groceries. Yep, I said it.
Getting your finances together is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you’re on a tight budget, you need to carve out space to collect moments not things. Otherwise, it could lead to burnout, money fights with your partner or feelings of scarcity.
And if you’re really tight on money, remember that even the most memorable experiences can be free. A game night with friends, a sunset at your favorite park, a sunny afternoon at the beach — these can all be free moments you cherish for a lifetime.
3. Build date night or family night into your routine
Let me tell you, it is SO easy to plop down on the couch after a long day at work and mindlessly binge Netflix until you fall asleep. In fact, the average person spends at least three hours a day watching TV! (Ouch!)
4. Nurturing hobbies can help you collect memories not things
Gone are the days of doing something you love simply because you love it. So many people are monetizing their passions and turning them into work.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a good side hustle. But there’s something special about finding something that makes you happy and doing it every day — even if it never earns you money.
So, what are some hobbies you’ve been wanting to try? It could be making pottery, learning a new language, or even creating scrapbooks from all your favorite trips. Check out this list of indoor hobbies for some ideas.
5. Turn mundane material purchases into experiences!
Sometimes all it takes is a simple mindset shift to begin viewing some of your material purchases as happiness-inducing experiences.
Take a personal finance book, for example. It could be a material item that sits on your bookshelf and fades into the background with all your other belongings. Or, it could be a reading experience that gives you the tools you need to completely transform your life. It’s all in how you think about it.
The same goes with your morning cup of coffee or a good journal. These are material items at their core. But if you turn them into a beautiful morning ritual where you savor those first few sips of coffee, then spend 15 minutes writing and reminiscing about all you’re grateful for, they can turn into nostalgic past times.
6. Say yes to more experiences — even if you’re not sure you’ll enjoy them
Even if you’re not sure you’ll love an experience, you should say yes if you have the money to do it. Here’s why:
Let’s say you agree to a weekend camping trip with friends. You’ve never been a fan of the dirt, the mud, the having-to-pee-behind-a-bush-outside kind of scene, but you reluctantly agree.
Experts suggest that even if parts of your trip are miserable (it rains, you get a bad night’s sleep, you hate peeing in the woods, etc.) — you’ll look back on that experience with rose-colored glasses.
The bad parts will melt away from your mind as you cling to the parts you really enjoyed — like fostering stronger bonds with friends or completing an intense hike you didn’t know your body was capable of. It's a great way to collect memories not things.
7. Get out of your comfort zone to collect memories not things
A recent study found that new and diverse experiences are actually linked to enhanced happiness. These experiences activate your hippocampus and striatum — two regions of the brain known for processing novelty and reward.
What better way to collect moments not things than by stretching outside of your comfort zone to try something new? This could be something fun like learning a new dance routine from TikTok or learning to cross-stitch. Or, it could be something serious like learning how to negotiate a raise.
Not sure what to do? Try one of these 35 comfort zone challenges.
Live your best life and collect moments not things!
It can be difficult to collect moments not things when your rational self sees an experience as one-and-done. $200 for a concert that’s over in three hours or a $200 purse I can keep forever? Your gut instinct is to choose the purse. But that’s because it’s tough to see the long-term value a moment can have on your overall happiness.
As you go throughout your day, I encourage you to seek out opportunities to collect moments not things. Instead of viewing an experience strictly by the price tag attached to it, think of it in terms of the kaleidoscope of memories it can provide.
Need help building more experiences into your budget? Learn how to create a budget that works with our completely free course! Tune in to the Clever Girls Know podcast and YouTube channel for more tips on living your best life on a budget!