Maine white water rafting - Northern Outdoors

Forget the Gadgets: Experiences Bring Happiness

Science Says, “Adventure  = Happiness”

Northern Outdoors Hiking

Hiking in Maine’s Bigelow Range

Don’t you just love it when science validates a feeling you’ve always had? How about when it says, “You were so right about the way you live your life!”? A recent article in Fast Company just gave me that unusual pleasure. But first, let’s go back in time for a little personal perspective. When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I asked for money that I could use toward my first international trip (in lieu of physical gifts). That eight-week trip changed my life and really shaped how I wanted to spend my money and time. It made me focus on experiences (trips) versus things. As someone who doesn’t have a ton of money, I’m pretty careful about where it goes. And I want it to go toward happiness. I also know I’m not alone in the dedicated pursuit of happiness.

You don’t have infinite money. Spend it on stuff that research says makes you happy.

I don’t know about you, but over the years, I’ve lost or damaged many things–two digital cameras, two iPods, and one TV. (I’m sure there’s more). Nowadays, by the time I unwrap the item, figure out how to works and then start using it, it’s already obsolete. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration.) But the memories I have of all my trips and adventures grow brighter and continue to bring me joy years later. And now science backs it all up.  Jay Cassano is a Brooklyn-based staff writer for Co.Exist (a division of Fast Company) and his article  “The Science Of Why You Should Spend Money On Experiences, Not Things” has exploded on the internet.

Early morning flyfishing before the water comes up in Kennebec Gorge.

Early morning flyfishing before the water comes up in Kennebec Gorge.

Things Offer Temporary Happiness

Cassano interviewed Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. He and colleagues synthesized studies about happiness and discovered that things only offer a temporary spike in happiness. “New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” says Gilovich. Once we adapt to that new thing, it no longer produces as much happiness for us. However, experiences continue to bring happiness long after they’ve happened. Even if your trip wasn’t a resounding success, it may improve upon later reflection and sharing–as a funny story, or a bonding experience with your fellow travelers.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Kennebec River Rafting

Kennebec River in morning mist

Shared Experiences Connect Us to Each Other

And if those experiences are shared, the happiness is increased. It even helps decrease our very human tendency to “keep up with the Joneses” and compare everything we get. Experiences are harder to compare because they’re influenced by us and how we behave. Hmm, that family vacation just became a whole lot more important to take.

So if you really want to invest in some serious happiness, go raft a river, hike a trail, climb a mountain, visit a museum or ski down a slope (or two). Just get out there and do something together.  Maine has all this and much more. Here at Northern Outdoors, its a fait accompli that our passion is about great experiences in the outdoors. We are the oldest and first rafting company in Maine and have shared our inside knowledge of the rivers, trails, mountains and lakes of western Maine with thousands of happy guests since 1976.

Hiking, fishing, rafting, floating, relaxing, taking in the scenery – explore some great ways to get out together in Maine this summer, here.

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