How To Buy Happiness - The Investment Of Travel

by Brian Greene

If you type, “money can’t” into Google it will magically complete the sentence with the following words, “buy happiness.”  Even a computer knows the old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness!” Few would argue the truth of the phrase. Yet, how does this sentiment reconcile with the predominant occupation of our time, namely, the pursuit of money.  How many people spend their days fantasizing about the things they’d buy if only they had just a little more of it?

Grow rich with beautiful memories like rafting down the Li River in China.
Grow rich with beautiful memories like rafting down the Li River in China. Photo courtesy of Brian Greene

How many of us sit at home or work thinking about what we could afford if that raise comes through, or if we got a higher paying job, or every time we buy a lottery ticket, living the dream right up until the numbers are revealed. We could finally buy the things we’ve been putting off, all the work and struggle would be worth it, and we’d be happy.  

But then we’re back to the beginning, that little saying, because that Powerball ticket is almost never a winner, and the fantasy is just that, a fantasy. Yet, maybe there’s something deeper in it. Perhaps we dreamt about finally taking that trip to Paris that we never thought possible, or maybe we imagined a dream house on a beach in Mexico where we could relax in the sun with family and friends. It is here that recent studies contradict ancient wisdom, because they say money can indeed buy happiness, just not in the way that one might think.

Can Money Buy Some Happiness? 

In order to see why, we need a little more background. Recent studies have repeatedly shown that what makes us humans happy are experiences and not things. Further, what social scientists are finding is that what leads to ultimate contentedness is the memory of the things we’ve done, or put another way, the memory of experiences we’ve lived.

In this way, happiness is deeply linked to memory. According to Daniel Kahlmann, a Nobel Prize winning author and current professor at Princeton University who has spent considerable time studying the nature of happiness, “We do not choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. Even when we think about the future, we do not think of our future normally, [as in] the experiences. We think about the future of our anticipated memories.” He elaborates in his Ted Talk on The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory. This is a very powerful statement, because what Dr. Kahlmann says is that the experience itself isn’t even the most important thing, rather what matters most is the memory of the experience. This is true even for things we haven’t done yet!  

Purchase Memories!

This means that money actually can buy happiness, because it can allow us to have experiences. We can buy a trip, charter a boat, go to school, any number of things. But when we do these things, it usually isn’t alone. People are social animals and continuing research shows that the long-term contentedness we receive from these memories is deeply enhanced by experiencing them with others. That’s to say, it isn’t the bigger house that makes us happy, it is living in that house with our family, or inviting our friends over for drinks, maybe BBQ’ing in the yard. It isn’t the bigger car in and of itself that makes us happy, although maybe for a few weeks we can enjoy the smell and appreciate how much better it is than our old car, but rather taking a road trip with people we care about. It is experiencing and sharing something new that ultimately make us content.

Why Studying Abroad Is the Best Investment You’ll Ever Make

So what does this have to do with studying abroad? Everything! It is clear that what ultimately leads to happiness in our lives are the memory of all of the new experiences we enjoyed with others. And what better source of new experiences and life changing events is there than studying abroad? At its very core it is an adventure into something new, something different, a world outside the one we already know, a voyage of discovery, encountering new people, cultures, and developing an understanding that life can be lived in countless different ways. Every step of studying abroad is a new experience!

Long Term Pay Out

That means if you’re sitting at home wondering whether going abroad is the right choice for you, make sure to put your short-term worries in the context of your entire life. Imagine what you will think back on in the future, will you be happier with memories of a life abroad – living with a new family in a new culture, eating new food, speaking new words, going to new places, or will you look back fondly on all the time you stayed home? For those who take the plunge, remember that experiences are what you make them, that in the long-run what makes us truly happy is moving out of our comfort zone, meeting new people, and trying new things.