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Experiences Make Us Happier

Buy Experiences and Feel Happier

Life experience not mIguazuwaterfallaterial possessions lead to the greatest happiness. A walk in nature, vacation getaway or evening with friends far surpasses the happiness-high from a new purchase or increase in salary. A host of research proves that memories are priceless to our happiness. This is due to the fact that experiences bring about the greatest changes in our brain. While enjoying yourself on a bike ride or a weekend holiday you are storing all of those good feelings in the long-term savings account in your brain.  These memories provide a wealth of positivity to draw upon in the day and weeks that follow.

Brazilian Happiness Adventure

DSC01150Having recently returned from Brazil we can attest to the happiness generating value of experiences. On our eco-adventure we visited two wonders of the world (Iguazu Falls and the Cristo), took four inner-country flights, went rafting over waterfalls, rode horses through the jungle, fed wild monkeys, snorkeled down the amazon with alligators close enough to touch (who were mating by the way….thank goodness they were preoccupied!), hiked through lush jungle, saw rainbows, butterflies, toucans and giant macaws and the list goes on. It was a feast for the soul and transformational circuit overload for the brain.

Neuroscience of Happiness

The novelty of new eBonitowaterfallnvironments, rich emotional intensity, awe of nature and bonding with our cherished friends were all part of the science backed reasons for the happiness boosting benefits we gained. Neuroscientists tell us for lasting happiness to occur, brain cells have to be bathed in the neurochemicals that only emotions produce. Thus without sustained emotional intensity any elevation in mood is short lived. It has also been shown that experiences are seen more on a standalone basis while we may tend to compare purchases we make and ruminate over whether we made the best choice or got the best deal. Material items bring about more analysis, second guessing and buyer’s remorse. Perhaps most importantly, memories from life experience last longer than the initial rush we get from acquiring something new.


Six Ways to Be Happier

Next time you find yourself thinking, I would be happier if only I had…., consider instead how you can invest in an experience or memory generating activity.

  1. Take a walk in nature. Just 90-minutes of walking through a natural environment decreases worry and reduces neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness.
  2. Go on a trip or plan a fun stay-cation.
  3. Build memories with those you love.
  4. Paint, draw, or create something with your hands.
  5. Be a tourist for a day and explore new places in your community.
  6. Stretch your comfort zone and do something daring like rock climbing, surfing, learn a new language, take that improv class or pick up an instrument.











Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D Beyond the Purchase

Gregory Bratmana, J. Paul Hamiltorib, Kevin Hahnc, Gretchen, Dailyd, & James Grosse. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.

Zhang, J.W., Howell, R.T., & Caprariello, P.A. (2012). Buying Life Experiences for the ‘‘Right’’ Reasons: A Validation of the Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale. DOI

About the Authors

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Hilary Stokes Phd

Dr. Hilary Stokes is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in San Diego, California. Dr. Hilary received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies, a master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in Sport Psychology from San Jose State University. In addition to her ….

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A woman with short blonde hair smiling, wearing a striped shirt, with pink flowers and greenery in the background.

Kim Ward Phd

Dr. Kim Ward received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies. She also holds a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California. Dr. Kim is a certified trauma-informed coach and life coach in private practice in San Diego, California. In…

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