What's The Big Idea: Tom Gilovich - The Power of Investing in Experiences vs. Material Possessions


“Nobody gets to the end of their life and says…dang, I should have bought more crap.”

Today’s guest: Tom Gilovich

His big idea: The Power of Investing in Experiences vs. Material Possessions

Thomas Gilovich is the Irene Blecker Rosenfeld Professor of Psychology at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research. He specializes in the study of everyday judgment and reasoning, psychological well-being, and self-assessment. In addition to his articles in scientific journals, Dr. Gilovich is the author of How We Know What Isn’t So (Free Press), Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (Simon and Schuster, with Gary Belsky), Social Psychology (W.W. Norton, with Dacher Keltner, Serena Chen, and Richard Nisbett), and The Wisest One in the Room (The Free Press, with Lee Ross).

Dr. Gilovich is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his PhD in Psychology from Stanford University.

In this episode we dive into the psychology behind why people are happier when they invest in experiences over material possessions. When you understand the science more deeply, you are more likely to make aligned decisions moving forward.

We also get into the science behind chasing happiness. Tom shares the interesting insights psychologists have learned about happiness, what contributes to it, how scientists measure it, and what we can do as a society to improve happiness for everyone. Being one of 4 principles to live by to advance personal happiness, we focus on things people can simply DECIDE to do today, to make themselves happier.

Listen to the full show below:

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Key insights Shared:

  • Why experiences overpower possessions when it comes to happiness

  • Why adaptability can be a good or bad thing depending on the experience

  • How our commute time to work can affect our happiness

  • The difference between happiness right now vs. happiness in the future

  • What are the things that make our experiences live on longer than our material possessions?

  • Building experiences in our lives and society to create more happiness

  • Why we can have miserable experiences that feel amazing in perspective

  • Experiences contributing more to our identity more than material possessions do

Moments You Don’t Want to Miss:

[3:00] Why did you choose to study happiness from a psychological perspective?

[7:10] What surprised about your study of happiness?

[13:50] Why your commute time to work has a BIG impact on your happiness

[24:00] Experiences vs. possessions

[26:50] Why we get more enduring satisfaction from our experiences

[27:10] Can you be happier waiting for something in the future vs right now?

[29:20] How has your research impacted your life?

[33:15] What we can do to be more conscious and not be so influenced by the messaging/advertising that is being directed at us constantly

[34:00] How can we be more experience-focused in a world full of stuff?

[38:45] What does happiness mean to you? Hedonia vs. Eudaimonia

[42:00] What are the things that have contributed most to whatever feelings Tom has about his life right now?

[45:44] What would you say to people who are in these positions of whether they are about to procure a thing or make a decision an experience?