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Want to Be Happier? Sell Your Stuff and Go to a Festival.

By / April 9, 2015

You know what would be cool?

If Whole Foods sold organic, free range happiness in a bottle. Sadly, you will not find happiness—the kind you can access in modern, Western societies—in any aisle of Whole Foods. Maybe Trader Joe’s, though.

Once the domain of gurus and shamans, happiness has more recently become the subject of much scientific and social research. One common finding: Experiences create more enduring happiness for people than physical possessions.

For one, Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, whose research was recently cited in a widely-read Fast Company article, has been trying for the past decade to figure out exactly how and why experiences make people happier than material goods. Gilovich discovered it’s in large part due to an important factor called…wait for it…wait for it…anticipation. (See what I did there?)

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That’s right, experiential purchases—like tickets to concerts, festivals, trips, or performances—tend to trump material purchases, because waiting for an experience elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good. Before the event has even happened, simply imagining what the event will be like creates excitement and happiness. And, after the event is over, the social capital (think: bragging rights) of being there doesn’t hurt, either.

If you were lucky enough to go to Disneyland when you were a kid, you may remember when your parents told you that trip was coming. Remember that? Great, right? And then you got to show your Mickey ears to your friends!

Author James Wallman recently wrote a book called Stuffocation,” which suggests upgrading our culture from materialism to something he calls experientialism. He recently wrote a Wired article, reporting on the “Experience Revolution.” His take is that experientialism is ultimately helping people lead happier, healthier lives.

When I was growing up in Miami, your first car defined who you were. I had a lemony old Saab, thank you very much, which I guess made me a Europhile who loved spending all my froyo shop wages on maintenance. Buying that car was a real rite of passage and an important factor for identity creation.

Now, my social feeds overflow with concert photos, festival selfies, and weekend getaway pictures. Today, people are not as interested in showing off cars, trinkets, gadgets, or clothes as they once were.  More than in past generations, real value is derived from experiencing, not from possessing.

Wallman is definitely on to something.

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Eventbrite recently conducted a study with more than 2,000 American adults and found that people are indeed spending more money on experiences than in previous decades. Nearly 50% say they spend more money on events and live experiences now than they have in past years of their lives, and 60% said they would like to increase their spending on experiences rather than physical things over the next 12 months.

So what exactly is it about live experiences that people find so fulfilling? For starters, they have the power to:

  1. Create irreplaceable memories. 88% of people say great live experiences make for life-long memories, and 77% say some of the best memories of their lives thus far involve live events.
  2. Solidify bonds. 77% feel that going to live events with family and friends helps deepen their relationships with them.
  3. Foster a sense of community. 66% believe attending events make them feel more connected to other people, the community, and the world.
  4. Generate fulfillment. Nearly 3 in 4 say they feel fulfilled after attending or participating in a great live experience.
  5. Drive FOMO. It’s not just about the experience itself; documenting and sharing the experience with others is also incredibly important. More than half experience FOMO (fear of missing out) when they can’t go to something their friends and/or family are going to. Experiences are the new social currency.

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Living an epic and meaningful life is about creating, sharing, and capturing memories through experiences that span the rich spectrum of life’s opportunities.

Want to learn more about the emotionally transformative power of live experience? Check out this video of Eventbrite co-founder Julia Hartz on the macro trends leading to our living in real life.

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