Why Millennials are Choosing Experiences Over Things

Miles Rote
January 16, 2024

The world and the people in it have been evolving for millions of years.

We were hunters and gatherers. Then, the agricultural revolution made us farmers. When the industrial revolution unfolded, we became factory workers. In the age of information, we've become employees at offices.

A lot has changed.

Although technology has always elusively promised it would provide us with more free time and less work, we are actually working more than before the agricultural revolution

Believe it or not, there was far more leisure time when you had to hunt for your own food than today when you can go to a grocery store and choose virtually anything you want.

Science, Experiences, & Happiness

Millennials are being raised in a world where they're exposed to more information than ever before.

With the ability to look up anything with a cell phone, Millennials don't have to take anything at face value. 

For example, the media may influence us that buying things will make us happier but a simple look at the facts shows us that isn't the case.

And Millennials have figured that out.

Here are 5 reasons Millennials are choosing to have enriching experiences instead of purchasing things.

1. Buying things is thing of the past

Millennials are growing up in a society where the largest retail store doesn't own any items (Amazon), the biggest transportation service doesn't own any vehicles (Uber), and the most popular hotel chain doesn't own any hotels (AirBnB).

It's no surprise Millennials have figured out owning things is a thing of the past.

Why own a car when you can hire a driver on demand for essentially the same cost as buying your own vehicle but none of the stresses associated with owning it?

In our changing and mobile culture where traveling to any corner of the planet is affordable, and jobs are allowing more and more to work from anywhere, why buy a home when you don’t know how long you’ll stay there?

In addition, Millennials are changing jobs on average every three years. Why imprison yourself to a mortgage and staying in one place when you don't know how long you will even be staying there?

And then there is this. James Hamblin, the Atlantic’s columnist, explains the phenomenon of ownership no longer being relevant as follows: 

Over the past decade, psychologists carried out a great amount of research proving that, in terms of happiness and a sense of well-being, spending money on new experiences is much more profitable than buying new things. It brings more joy.

2. Experiences make us happier

We live in the age of information and the data is in:  the science of happiness has shown us experiences elicit more happiness than buying material things.

Dr. Gilovich explains,

"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.”

It makes sense, of course, but much of the American Dream is built upon principles of buying material goods. Well, it didn't take Millennials long to realize the American Dream isn't all it's cracked up to be.

After all, would people rather hear about your watch or the time you took a trip to Costa Rica and smothered yourself in blue clay from the jungle?

3. Millennials have different values

Art by Banksy
"Millennials don't want to just read the news anymore. They want to know what they can do about it." -Ian Somerhalder

According to more the Deloitte Survey researching more than 7,700 Millennials spanning 29 countries, 84% of Millennials believe it is their duty to change the world.

What's more:  Millennials aren't chasing jobs for a higher salary, they are looking for companies that share their same personal values. According to the same survey, 7 out of 10 believe the company they work for shares the same personal values as them.

Unlike the previous generation, millennials have no problem changing their majors or their jobs in search of something more meaningful or better aligned with their values. 

In fact, they are leaving their jobs at triple the rate of non-millennials.

4. 'Successful' has been redefined

Before this generation, much of what was considered 'successful' revolved around prosperity and stability.

Given that 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company that matches their values, this is no longer the case.

Being successful to a Millennial isn't about how much money you make but how much freedom you have. Flexible schedules with the freedom to work from anywhere is much more appealing to most millennials than a high paying job that has strict hours and requires 8 hours in an office every day.

Our parents didn't have the ability to travel as much as we do, or the freedom to easily start a business like you can in today's world. Therefore, they invested in houses, things, cars--they were a reflection of the society where it was encouraged to buy a house and work with the same company for 20 years. That was what 'success' 20 years ago.

Oh how times have changed.

5. Purchasing things makes us worry

Tell me if this doesn't sound familiar: you work really hard at your job for a long time to save up money, buy a car, and then spend a lot of time caring for the car, anxious about it getting damaged, and even arm the vehicle with an alarm so it's not taken from you.

This process, a process we've all likely gone through, takes up so much time and energy--and at the end of it--we just worry about it breaking or being taken away.  It begs the question: is it worth it?

Millennials don't think so and with all of the alternative options such as Uber & Zipcars, many are figuring out it's not worth the worry.

And this goes for much smaller purchases as well. Why spend hard earned money to buy a watch if you're just going to worry about messing it up all the time?

Instead of spending time to make money to buy material things which can make you feel anxious or can be taken away from you, Millennials are investing in experiences that improve life and can never be taken away.

Final Thoughts

The world is changing and so are the people being raised in it.

With access to unfathomable amounts of information right in one's pocket, Millennials are asking a lot of questions. And the results are in:

Millennials are clearly choosing experiences over things.

Miles Rote
Miles is the founder of Wellness Gangsters & author of the Become Yourself Newsletter where readers get high-level tips & resources to go next level.


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