Experiences Matter Most

Experiences Matter Most

September 23, 2015

Let’s face it. I don’t need anything. Not really. I have stacks of books friends think I’ll love, scarves in every color, and a storage closet so full I can’t find anything anymore. We’ve got every conceivable kitchen gadget, tins of gourmet hot chocolate, and a badminton set (even though I live in a condominium).

So, when I’m asked what I want for my birthday or the holidays, my thoughts turn to experiences. I would love tickets to the movies or to the NY Philharmonic. I would love to be invited to lunch with a friend – there’s never enough time for that, so let’s make time! Or maybe a trip to some faraway place I’ve been thinking about…

Experiences Are Far-Reaching

It turns out that experiences actually make us happier. In a Business Insider article, Drake Baer reported on Harvard researcher Dan Gilbert’s findings, showing that people are happier when they make an “experiential buy” than a “material buy.” The original paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology states, “Individuals experienced elevated mood when contemplating a past experiential purchase (relative to those contemplating a past material purchase), suggesting that experiential purchases produce more lasting hedonic benefits.”

We have a greater emotional connection to the things that we do than to the things that we have. And we also enjoy experiences longer. Baer writes, “We adapt to things quickly, but we get to anticipate and remember events.”

Organizations Can Leverage the Power of Experiences

Businesses have caught on to the residual nature of experience, and many organizations find that travel incentives have greater impact on their top performers than any other motivational or performance improvement programs. Employees eligible for the annual sales incentive are more likely to think about it all year long if it’s a travel program to a desirable destination. Last year’s winners are motivated to win again, but so are all of the people around them, including their own spouses and close colleagues who just missed it last time. In fact, research by  the industry organization Site determined that “Of those who earned the reward 95.5% said they were … motivated to earn the reward. But 90.7% of non-earners were similarly motivated.”

The experience is anticipated, desired, enjoyed, and then remembered long after the event is over. The experience adds to the anticipation and enjoyment of the next program, driving efforts far beyond the three or four night trip. This connects employees’ personal aspirations and hopes to the organizational goals of the program.

Simply put, we see experiences differently than objects, and organizations can tap into that desire for experience with travel rewards. Top performers probably don’t need to add more to their storage closets any more than I do. But an experience they can’t or won’t do on their own is deeply prized. As Baer writes, “Experiences makes us happy because we turn them into a part of our identities. If you take three weeks to explore Nepal, your treks around the Himalayas will become a part of who you think you are.” There’s nothing more personal than that.