It’s conventional wisdom that experiences are more valued than material possessions since experiences provide more happiness. Despite a “natural” cynicism acquired after three years and a half of living in NYC and the over-abuse of the word experience in the communications world, I decided to investigate a little more: Are experiences better than stuff?. If stuff are stones, are experiences its paper?
A thoughtful piece of research using multiple methodologies to compare, arrived at the same conclusion: Yes, experiences are in general more valued than material stuff by different groups of people (in age, genre, socioeconomic level and cultural origin). So far nothing surprising. The interesting part comes when they start digging into the why.
Overall, people preferred experiences because they inferred experiences were social while material stuff was individual. When the research questioned people about the preference for experiences lived individually vs. the possession of stuff they can enjoy socially the initial clear preference for experiences started to be diluted. Ultimately the value of experiences is that they can be shared socially. If the purpose of stuff was to enjoy something socially, the value of experience vs. stuff started to be on par.
Conclusion: Socialization is what brings value up in the scale of happiness. Experiences beat material possessions in providing happiness because experiences are perceived as more social than stuff.
Actually, when the research was specific about the kind of experience and differentiated between individual experiences and social experiences, then the value of the experience “per se” became slightly unclear. Obviously people can share their individual experience with others so the experience will gain in socialization value and as a consequence in the perceived generation of happiness. Does this sound to you familiar as the basic explanation for the explosion of social media?
This brings me to a more interesting conclusion: If socializing is the key aspect of happiness, the experiences that actually happen socially will be more valued than individual experiences that are shared socially afterwards. In the words of the research:
“although talking Shared Experiences and Happiness about one’s experiences can increase positive affect above and beyond the affect derived from the experience itself (Reis, Smith, Carmichael, Tsai, Caprariello, Maniaci, & Rodrigues, 2010), happiness tends to be intensified by sharing that experience with others in the moment (Jaremka et al., 2011).”
In other words, sharing experiences that you live individually is less valued than participating socially in a shared experience. Spike Jones covered this difference in this blog asking himself if there was a piece of research to substantiate the thinking. Hi Spike, see above.
Shared experiences are experiences you live together, socially, as part of a community or a group. Shared experiences mean a “communion” of multiple and connected experiences. Shared experiences are transformative. A shared experience makes you feel part of something bigger than you are individually. Shared experiences create a common story together: something you live and relive every time that the community or the group gets together. Does this sound familiar as a description for the creation of culture?
Great brands will differentiate from good brands because they will unlock the power of shared experiences, from niche communities to crowdsourcing, instead of only leveraging the FOMO of individuals sharing their individual experiences with their networks. Just think in the power of the Coke Open Happiness campaign or in the potential behind the Wonderfilled campaign in Oreo and compare in “scale of happiness” with the virality of the Volvo video.
Interestingly enough I don’t think shared experiences will be the scissors of sharing experiences. Quite the opposite: shared experiences will be the most important reason for sharing experiences. More to come.