Reflecting back on your life, what do you wish you had done differently?
For most older people, the answer is “I wish I worried less.” It’s simple to understand. There seems to be a million and one little things to worry about on any given day–let alone the bigger, continuous worries like financial independence, being with the wrong person, and finding happiness. These worries, as many older people will tell you, turn into regrets as we decide to put off our dreams, often until “tomorrow” or retirement.
After a long career in medical care and hospice, I can say with assurance that it’s best not to wait until tomorrow and especially not until retirement. Money spent now on the things we dream of doing is money well spent. But don’t just take it from me. Experts on happiness agree.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” – Dr. Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University
There are a number of reasons that experiences fulfill us in ways that saving money for something that may never happen, or buying the shiniest new gadget, does not. At the core of the idea, though, is the fact that when we spend money on experiences, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to grow and learn. We meet new people and we see worlds vastly different than our own. Here’s why those experiences are so important:
Experiences Ignite Purpose and Passion
Purpose: another quintessential worry of most humans. It can be hard to find and even harder to fulfill, but experiencing new things opens doors to ideas we never dreamt of being possible. Traveling, for example, gives us a glimpse of a culture different from what we’ve previously known. Perhaps while traveling you come across a service that a community offers their citizens and you think, “Yes. My town needs this.” The more we experience, the more passions we ignite. The more passions we have, the closer we are to finding purpose.
Experiences Shape Priorities
Getting caught up in the demands of the world is easy, but it’s also exhausting. There are dozens of priorities we create for ourselves, whether it be money, family, or a career. Any way you cut it, investing in experiences teaches you what is most valuable to you. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen may teach you that, when all else fails, community remains constant. A trip to a developing country may show you that money isn’t the key to happiness. Regardless of the experience, there are lessons to be learned.
Experiences Enhance Social Skills
In most cases, a new experience will introduce you to new people. For years scientists have noted that people who are more social lead longer lives than those who keep to themselves. So, continuously sign up for new classes, travel new places, and visit places in your town you’ve never been to before. No matter what you do, talk to people. Get to know them. You might just extend your life by a few years! Being social and experiencing new things also decreases depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
So, let’s listen to our elders. Instead of filling our lives with worry, let’s invest our time and money into experiences we can learn and grow from. Our lives are so short. Waiting until tomorrow doesn’t guarantee happiness, safety, or security. That way, when you reach the end of your life, you’ll be able to say, “I regret nothing.”