The Science of Why Traveling Makes us Happier than Material Wealth Ever Can

Back when I was 19, as soon as I got my paycheck I would head straight to the bank, cash it out, and start my spending spree.  With every new purchase I felt a little happier, but a few days later that satisfaction was often gone and I was awaiting my next paycheck to buy more things.  I was earning around $500/week, living paycheck to paycheck with barely any real expenses. All my money went to needless spending. Was I happy? when I was buying I was. But there were always highs and lows. By the end of the week, I felt broke, complacent, and stuck.  When I started traveling and living nomadic at 24, I had to cut spending greatly and manage a budget. I stopped daily needless spending, started cooking at home, got rid of my car, and brought my expenses down to just my grocery bill.  Most of the income I saved went on to cover my travel costs.  I never felt badly about spending the majority of my income on travel – In fact, I loved it, the more I made, the more I could do.  I had a small suitcase and my backpack full of electronics. I didn’t have a car, a bike, I got donated almost all my clothes, barely had any bills. Yet, I felt so much more fulfilled than I felt when I had a sports car, lived in a nice house, and had a lot of “stuff”.


It turns out that the main hindrance to happiness is adapting. As soon as something we buy becomes ordinary and unexciting, the level of life satisfaction we feel weakens, and we start searching for the next purchase. This cycle is repeated over and over.


“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich

However, research carried out at Cornell University has found a way to break this damaging cycle. *Psychology professor Thomas Gilovich has shown that we experience the same increase in happiness when we buy something we want and when we go traveling. But — and here’s the most important point — the amount of happiness we derive from our purchase falls over time, whereas the memories of our traveling experience continue to supply us with happiness hormones for much longer* Source

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Attending events, going on vacations, learning new skills, extreme sports like snowboarding, climbing or skydiving — all of these are an ideal source of happiness that provide long lasting happiness and contentment with our investment. A new bag, a trendy watch, or even a new car will eventually become just another ordinary object we own, and will typically become old and outdated. Every new memory, on the other hand, becomes a real source of joy that stays with us through our entirety.

Whatever you are doing, if you can’t travel nomadically, but want to experience more – make a spreadsheet and write down all your biggest living expenses. Look to see what you can adjust (re-finance, find a better insurance provider, etc). Then take a look and see what you are spending on everything else. If you can find ways to cut your spending, you can save for experiences whether they be local or travel. Make your own coffee, pack breakfast or lunch, workout from home, quit smoking cigarettes. Living in NY and smoking a pack a day can cost upwards of $4500 year. If you start cutting back, you’ll be surprised how much you can save and invest in your future or cover travel and new experiences!

Sources: Why You Should Spend your Money on Experiences Not Things

Happiness from Travel not Material Wealth

Travel for free: Here’s a $40 Discount for Airbnb!

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