This post is dedicated to my former young neighbors, a married couple in their late 30’s who moved to a new building this past weekend. As I watched their three movers run up and down the two flights of stairs to empty their apartment, and then stash the limitless contents into the moving van, I was struck with how much stuff the couple owned.
One thought that came to mind: “Exactly how many tables does a person need?”
Now, granted, I am at the other end of the consumerist spectrum, so all is relative. Also, I have moved so many damn times that it was often easiest to leave this or that table (and other heavy-ish things) behind, either for the new tenant or out in the alley for the inevitable scavengers.
In fact, I myself have scavenged some pretty nice stuff over the years, especially when living in neighborhoods where college students abide. Come moving day, usually in the spring, these youngsters would regularly stash some very nice bookcases, tables, and other furniture out near the building’s dumpster, likely the very same furniture their parents had bought for them the previous fall.
Thank you, Mom & Dad.
This ease with which I have over the years accumulated then shed stuff puts me in mind of several recent articles on what makes us happy: owning things or doing things. It is a question with particular relevance, especially as I age and attempt to live with less and less while doing more and more.
The most recent piece I found is from Fast Company’s website, from March of this year. Title is “The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things.” It reports on the research of Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell.
Here are some article excerpts:
“Gilovich's findings are the synthesis of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. How adaptation affects happiness, for instance, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases. Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same. But over time, people's satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up.”
So, yes, over time our satisfaction for things decreases, while it increases for experiences. Does this not seem to make sense on some intuitive level?*
“But while the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.” In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences."
*Ah, and maybe here’s why: I may or may not remember the things I owned when living with Philip LaChapelle in Manhattan, shortly after we were married in 1967. But I sure as hell remember living in that apartment on 106th St on the Upper West Side. Or working in the admissions department of the hospital cross-town. Or the night some friends brought us live lobster from Boston for our potluck dinner.
‘One study conducted by Gilovich even showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, once they have the chance to talk about it, their assessment of that experience goes up. Gilovich attributes this to the fact that something that might have been stressful or scary in the past can become a funny story to tell at a party or be looked back on as an invaluable character-building experience.’
Oh, those many character-building experiences. Got a minute? I’ve a pile of those to share.
To read the entire article, click here:
And if you are inclined to get some of your character-building—and other—experiences down in writing, please consider joining us at Evanston’s newest indie bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings, on Saturday, August 15, from 12-2 pm, for the Writing Family Stories workshop.
Here are the particulars:
This introductory workshop is offered for those interested in writing family stories--the real-life accounts of the important people, places, and events in their and their family's life. These stories of loss and triumph, love and regret, and of lessons learned may be recorded as letters, diary entries, character sketches, even eulogies. We will discuss the merits of each of these forms, plus do some practice writing.
Fee is $40, and space is limited, so please pre-register with Carol or contact her for more information at email@example.com.