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Something I Learned In A Hospital Bed

experiences matterLet’s start with the main point: Experiences and relationships matter far more than money or possessions. If you were to share this with people in your life, what would their response be? Most would nod their heads and agree with you on the outside, but would the way they live their lives affirm that statement? Sadly, all too often mine has not.


But that has changed. About two years ago I took an inventory of where I was and where I wanted to be. In the past I had evaluated these things by how much money I was making, what I was driving, or where I lived. This time was different. I’m not sure if it was age or just the weariness of chasing the Joneses everywhere but this time the results were different. I noticed that my desires were more about the quality of my life and relationships as opposed to the things that I wanted or had. It was at that point I began to reevaluate the choices I was making and began thinking long and hard about how I was living my life.


Fast forward to last fall when I had a significant health scare that knocked me out of life for a couple of months…literally. As a relatively young guy I narrowly avoided a “widowmaker” heart attack and had to go under the knife for a quadrupal bypass. The chickens of not taking care of myself for a number of years came home to roost. During that period I had plenty of time to reflect on what was really important to me. Oddly enough, it wasn’t that my car wasn’t brand new, or that I hadn’t spent enough hours at the office for the last 25 years. My thoughts centered around my faith, the amazing people and relationships in my life, and the realization that I had experienced so little of the wonders around me.

And before you dismiss all this as mushy whimperings from a guy coming off a health scare, research bears out the tangible value of experiences over possessions. Dr. Travis Bradberry recent wrote an article for Entrepreneur that confirms this with the research of Dr. Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University. Dr. Bradberry says “don’t spend your money on things. The trouble with things is that the happiness they provide fades quickly.”

Dr. Gilovich found that we quickly adapt to things and then the satisfaction soon fades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them” says Gilovich. The thrill you get from buying that new car seems very fulfilling…for a time. Then the love is gone. What’s worse is that often, the thing doesn’t live up the the hype and you get a bad case of buyer’s remorse. Who hasn’t bought an expresso machine only to see it show up in your yard sale pile a few years later.


Experiences, on the other hand, last much longer and we integrate them into our personality. We are an accumulation of our experiences. No matter how much we love a new couch and love seat, they don’t affect who we are. Dr. Gilovich concluded from his research that “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.”

This concept of valuing relationships and experiences translates very well into the business world as well. What office wouldn’t benefit from employees who see their working relationships as far more important than their paychecks or businesses that see interactions with their customers as a greater opportunity than a transaction? A transaction happens one time and is over. The relationship, if cultivated properly, and the experience will last much, much longer and will likely include many more transactions along the way.


I’m still figuring out what this means to me personally and how I live my life and that’s OK. I think it’s a journey as opposed to a destination. It also takes time to adjust my choices to match my desires. Things like driving a 7 year old paid-for car that opens up another $600 a month for experiencing life with my wife and family. That’s a fantastic bargain.

The real question for you is “So what?” How does knowing this affect your life?

Scott Wilson is currently a Customer Experience Principal at a Fortune 50 company. He is also a marketing and business strategy consultant for small businesses and writes about Leadership, Communication, and Marketing on his blog at scottkwilson.com.

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