Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

Experience is All

With most graduation ceremonies over,  graduates are now confronting the reality of the “what’s next?” question. Sometimes the answer is easy (grad school); for others, a shrug of the shoulders or a vague declaration regarding job hunting. It’s rare these young people are given the opportunity to reflect upon deeper, more far reaching thoughts such as “who do I want to be, how do I want to live my life”?

Recent research by Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Cornell University respectively, have complied data to support the theory that experiences make us much happier than material possessions. While this may not seem surprising to those of us who are rather far beyond our graduation days, we now have actual proof it is so!

So why is the good life one of “doing” rather than of “having?”

Apparently experiences give us more pleasurable memories than our purchases, even if those remembrances are a bit romanticized. And although our “things” can be necessary and with us for many years (think car, furniture), they generally make up the background of our life, only getting our attention when they malfunction!

Our culture tends to set the standard of personal worth on what we own rather than who we are and what we do, but our real, true identity evolves from how we experience life and the world. Things are replaced, but experiences become embedded into who we are and determine the choices we make. While solitary experiences are valuable, those that foster relationships and social ties to others, provide a foundation upon which to build our place in the world.

Of course, possessions are necessary to live a comfortable life, but how do we draw the line between things we need and things we just, well, want?

According to a former Texan, now a Hindu swami, the problem is not money or “stuff”, but our attachment to it. In fact without material possessions we would not have access to the many experiences that enrich our lives. In Tibetan, the word for attachment means “sticky desire”, a desperate fear of being separated from an object we covet. The swami’s advice? “Collect experiences, not things”. Cultivate doing something for its own sake. Find intrinsic value not in the result, but in the journey. Pursue “more of what matters and less that doesn’t” (Center for a New American Dream).

Van Boven & t. Gilovich, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 85, no.6.

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