For many years when taking part on one of the Tour d’Afrique bicycling expeditions I wondered why so many of the participants were so content, so enthralled by what they were doing. Of course, I understood that they were seeing some amazing places and experiencing different cultures, still the high level of satisfaction seemed counter intuitive. On the face of it, it did not make any sense. The individuals would cycle day after day often over 60 miles a day, sleep in tents, at times not even being able to take a shower, dealing with winds, heat, discomfort of all kinds, sometime there was limited types of food and yet they would come to me and thank me profusely for organizing these transcontinental expeditions.
Recently I caught an interview on CBC Radio with a researcher Dr. Ryan T. Howell of San Francisco State University who studies what makes people happy.
Dr. Howell explained that though people continue to believe that having more money and more possessions will make them happy, 35 years of research shows that this is not the case. He thinks that perhaps this is the case, based on one fact. When people spent their money on certain life experiences as compared in buying things, this kind of spending does actually make them happy.
In a paper he published in 2009, participants in a study indicated that ‘experiential purchases’ represented money better spent as opposed to materialistic purchases. Materialistic purchases make people happy for a very short time, whereas ‘experiential purchases’ increased the sense of well being and brought more happiness to themselves as well as to others and tend to last for a long time. Study indicated that ‘experiential purchases’ have an indirect effect on one’s happiness through two paths: increase vitality and decreased social comparison an element that is always present with materialistic expenditures.
Watching cyclists whether it is in the unrelenting deserts of the Silk Route, or the punishing climbs of the Andes, or the humidity on Lake Malawi, day to day struggles with all the elements an expedition can throw at them, and many years later receive warm greetings from many, I could safely tell Dr. Howell – your research has been authenticated in field conditions.