Experiences not things – the true key to happiness

It’s no secret that I suffer from depression and I accept that it is a disease I will have forever, but like most long term illnesses I’ll learn to manage it the best I can with medication and taking care of my wellbeing.

I have spent most of my life trying to find the ‘thing’ that makes me happy; that Golden Fleece or magic elixir that surely must exist.  This quest has meant a lifetime of short term highs, normally investing time in the wrong areas such as men, alcohol, work and most prominently buying stuff.  Indeed depression is an expensive and dangerous illness where you push your body and your purse strings to unnatural limits until you break down, retreat and hide in an episode of nothingness and devastation.

Shopping depression guilt

A temporary buzz

Out of many evils, shopping is my way of coping and also my red alert that I’m not doing great.  Much like sex or alcohol spending money gives me that short term high, that rush at finding something pretty, the few moments a shop assistant likes and wants to please you and that feeling of having something new and different that will make me a better person. Unfortunately like the less healthy addictions, shopping gives you a come down, a deep guilt at how you’re being selfish, wasteful and will ruin your future.

Having some time away from work has given me better perspective on the importance of things.  I have two very close friends, both great people but one is obsessed with wealth and what it can buy you, always wanting the bigger house, the latest dress, the faster car and the shiniest jewellry and the other who spends any additional cash she may have on days out with her children or a night laughing at a comedy show.  The former never seems happy and suffers, much like I used to with the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome where as the latter is pretty content.

This made me think about the importance of experiences over things.  You are after all the sum of the experiences you’ve had and not the stuff you’ve owned.  I looked at my own behaviour and my quest for happiness, how the joy of tangible purchases fades when they are used or out of style and their value depletes.  However, the memory I have of elephants walking around in Thailand will never get old.  Seeing the world is a major happiness ingredient for me.

Experience life travel

Experiences not things

I also thought that most of the things I own make me quite insuler and lonely.  I love my new dress but nobody else benefits, same with that new laptop.  Going to a new tea shop with a friend is something we both enjoy and will talk about again so it’s not forgettable rather than me sitting home alone, too broke to go out and counting my shoes!

Having ‘stuff’ makes me feel bad.  I look at it piling up and spilling over, highlighting the money I’ve wasted and it makes me feel queasy.  I think of how I could have used that money for better experiences, such as travelling more, or helping others and the world we live in.  A man I met in Sri Lanka who lived a very simple Buddhist life told me how after the tsunami he packed up his car with all the things he owned, clothes, toys and food and drove to the destroyed areas to give to those that had nothing.  He didn’t think twice, helping others came first even though it left him with nothing, their need was greater as he had a roof over his head.

On their death bed, nobody thinks of the shoes they missed out on or the car they owned, instead people wish they’d spoken to their parents more, spent more time with their children or helped a charity.  Part of me is annoyed that it has taken me so long to realise the secret of happiness is so simple and you don’t need to be rich to experience simple things in life, but I’m changing and the sense of calm and contentment I feel makes it all worthwhile.

I’m getting married soon and the emphasis on my wedding is making sure the ones we love have a great time rather than the earrings I’ve chosen or the grandness of the cake.  I’m working towards travelling Africa later this year after some festivals involving lots of dancing with good friends, lots more yoga, more reading and making the most of my parents and the stories they have to tell.

If, as Shakespeare said the world is but a stage then don’t get stuck on the props.



A thirty something, fifties inspired traveller with a love of home comforts and pretty things. Lives in Norwich, plays in London.

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