If you’re just joining us, we’ve been talking about how critical it is that we learn how to rest. We’ve heard the story of my friend Vic, who reached retirement and realized he’d never practiced enjoying life and rest outside of work. His relationships sat in disarray. He’d never developed any hobbies. He had to make some drastic changes to avoid a tragic close to his life’s story.
During this time of watching Vic work to make that change, I realized that rest takes a great deal of experimentation. We have to find out what kinds of activities don’t recharge us. We have to find out what fills our wells and we have to practice getting better at those activities. We have to change in order to stop the cycle of only resting from work when we hit a point of exhaustion. But here is the good news: Once we have made the changes necessary to make space for rest, it brings about more change in us. When we learn how to rest, our priorities morph. By sharing experiences with the people who matter to us, we begin to see how much more valuable experiences truly are. This shift of focus can bring happiness and delight back to our lives.
Scientists have been studying this pattern of thinking for over a decade, and here’s how they describe it. When we’re watching our money, we favor things over experiences because we believe tangible things will provide more lasting value than fleeting experiences. Special concerts or weekend getaways come and go. Material purchases seem more durable because they last longer.A family skips a week of vacation together in order to use that money to buy a new minivan.
“We would only have one week at the beach, but we could be driving that van for years.”
Clearly, that makes more sense. It’s a reasonable calculation, but it leaves something out. They’re investing in value that physically lasts longer than an experience, but not psychologically.
Over time, a possession becomes familiar. We take our things for granted. After a few weeks, we can still touch them, but they don’t mean as much anymore. Think of the last smartphone you bought. If you were anything like me, you were in awe of the new features. It was so much faster, the camera was so much better, it was so much thinner and lighter. All of that awe over the newness of the shiny thing fades. A week later, it is just your phone. As Aesop wrote some fifteen-hundred years ago, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The fact that things are durable allows them to become familiar over time, and their perceived value plummets.
Contrast that to experiences. Even though experiences come and go, their impact remains. Often, it grows deeper over time. Experiences foster new connections between people. They give us stories to tell, places to revisit in daydreams, and even accomplishments that become part of our identities. A week spent gliding past glaciers on an Alaskan cruise will not last, but it enriches our sense of beauty and wonder in ways that a wider television screen cannot. The very fact that experiences become less familiar over time makes them grow in value. We come to cherish them. And when we become aware of this truth, it changes us. We don’t even need to work at it anymore. We naturally seek rest out because we see the deep value it gives us and our families over time.
All this leads us to the great sport of pickleball. Besides its ranking as the greatest game named after a condiment, pickleball provides a stunning amount of happiness for one of my most fulfilled clients. The sport is played like doubles tennis, only with a different racket, tighter boundaries, a wiffle ball, and an Elvis impersonator officiating.
Okay, so I may not understand the rules of pickleball, but my client does—perhaps because he’s gone to pickleball camps, joined pickleball leagues, and sat on the Midwest’s board of pickleball ambassadors. What does he get out of pickleball? Nothing besides deeper friendships, a chance to get his heart rate up, laugh, sweat, and have something to look forward to. That’s a serious payoff for a game with a silly name.
I’ve watched him discover how much more valuable that experience is than anything he could buy. I’ve seen him change. Checks written to give kids money to buy things have changed into plane tickets purchased for shared experiences with kids and grandkids. His family doesn’t have to work to make space for it. They seek it out naturally now because they know how much more they will value experiences over time. And in that shared experience, they find delight and rest.
The next time we are faced with a trade-off between experiences and things, let’s choose experiences. Let’s not inflate the value of physical purchases just because they’re tangible. Let’s realize that the richness of shared experiences always lasts longer because it stays in our hearts, not our hands.
Next time, we’ll look at how rest goes beyond shifting our priorities and actually makes us more productive in our work. It’s amazing how much more we can do when we make space to do less.
James Lenhoff is the president of Wealthquest, a Cincinnati based financial planning and wealth management firm that offers a full range of financial services under one roof, for one simple fee.