It is safe to say that we are all in the pursuit of happiness, and for most of us, being happy is directly related to acquiring wealth. They say money can’t buy happiness, but studies have proven that money does indeed make us happier, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as we simply need money in order to meet our most basic needs and wants. The real question lies in what we do with that money. How do we get the most bang for our buck when we spend in the pursuit of happiness?

Thanks to a study conducted by a psychology professor at Cornell University we now have answers. The results? Forget about that jewelry, fancy new smart phone, or luxury car. Invest in travel and other experiences.

The Problem with Material Wealth

That’s right. Travel and other experiences have been proven to make us the happiest the longest. Sounds backwards doesn’t it? One would think purchasing a physical object that we desire, that will last forever, will make us happy much longer than spending money on a one time experience. Dr. Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University explains this through the concept of adaptation. Simply put, buying the things we desire does make us happy for a while, but we soon adapt to these things and are no longer excited by them. “The grass is always greener on the other side” is a phrase that immediately comes to mind and one many can relate to. You might be super excited to buy that new luxury car and it will make you very happy, but only for a while. Soon you will adapt, and it will no longer be exciting and new and you will be left wanting.

The Power of Experience

It’s a vicious cycle, but one that can be corrected by allocating our money and priorities in new directions, specifically by spending our hard earned cash on travel and experiences. Gilovich’s study determined that peoples satisfaction with physical purchases went down over time, while satisfaction with money spent on experiences, even one-time trips, only increased over time. Our experiences are truly a part of who we are, and the same simply can’t be said for our material goods.

A separate study conducted by Gilovich determined that even negative experiences eventually bring more satisfaction than material goods. On the surface this might not make sense. We have all had bad experiences, and they are never pleasant at the time, but how often do we look back on these experiences and laugh at our misfortune or even bond with others who have had similar bad experiences. You may have even learned something from that bad experience that will always stay with you.

These are universal feelings that can be easily shared with other people, which leads to yet another benefit of travel experiences over the purchase of material goods. We are much more likely to bond with others over a shared experience than a shared material good. You can only chat with someone about your mutually new smart phone for so long. Meet someone who also traveled to an interesting place? That conversation is going to go on much longer and create a more meaningful bond. Comparing material goods on the other hand can be quite toxic as they often lead to questions of economic status which leads to unhealthy envy. This is much less of an issue when discussing experiences, even if one experience was more luxurious than another.

Focus On Your Next Great Experience

What does all this mean? Take the simple step of prioritizing travel and experiences over the purchase of material goods. You will create long lasting happiness that will lead to a healthy full life. When you feel like you absolutely have to have something, simply step back and ask yourself if you really need it. Will it make you truly happy? Or is your money better spent on a great experience you will remember for the rest of your life.

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Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Start with a small trip and be open to any experiences that may come along. Sooner or later, you’re likely to get hooked on these new experiences, and you’ll find yourself happily skipping that trip to the mall and planning a vacation instead. Travel is a great opportunity to experience a lot of new things at once. You can stay at new places, participate in new activities, and meet new people, all of which will provide you with meaningful experiences and memories.

Your Story is Based on Your Experiences, Not Your Things

Happiness is everyone’s right and it shouldn’t be out of reach for anyone. You truly are the sum of your experiences and the story of your life will be built on those experiences; it will have nothing to do with how much money you left in the bank, how big your house was, or how fancy your car was. The secret to a happy, healthy life? It’s simple. Get out and experience the world first-hand. You will create memories that you can treasure and share for the rest of your life.