Lasting Happiness: Experience vs Acquisition

I subscribe to Real Simple magazine so every month I receive a wonderful collection of lists, recipes, and stories. This is very welcome since these days I can’t really afford many diversions. Another things R.S. includes are really great quotes. Most of the time I am pleasantly amused or even moderately moved but the following quote provoked me to write a little something:

“No money is better spent than what is laid out for domestic satisfaction.”

This thought was written by Samuel Johnson, who was a pre-eminent author of 18th Century England ( Among other things, Johnson published a dictionary of the English language. Until more than 150 years later when the Oxford English Dictionary was published, Johnson’s dictionary was considered the most thorough and comprehensive of all dictionaries.

Anyway, back to the quote. It is fairly well established, via proper clinical psychiatric studies, that experiences result in far more lasting happiness than material possessions. However, as pointed out by Johnson, I do believe there is something, within reason of course, to investing in well-loved things for the home.

The memories of activities we’ve  done and places we’ve been to, do hold a certain fond and warm place in my psyche. But, as with many ADHD people, memories have a diminishing quality. The overactive mind is not content remembering things as they happened. Our brains are always rearranging events and experiences so that we’re constantly asking ourselves, or being questioned by others, about the accuracy of past events.

Therefore, just about every ADHD person I know, likes to keep little mementos of life. Could be photos or written items, sometimes scrapbooks. But it needs to be something tactile and present. Our memories are notoriously unreliable and, without something tangible, we really do forget. Activities and travel become as distant and detached as reading about someone else doing them in a book.

So, physical things become more relevant than they may or should be. Not that I am advocating surrounding oneself with tons of stuff; no. Quite the opposite; just a few most precious things and photos. And, especially, obviously, writing experiences down. But I do believe, without a doubt, that material objects can, when they provide supreme satisfaction (i.e. extra special), be just as good a source of happiness as experiences.

Psychology tells us that if you see something every day, the happiness it provides is diminishing. However, my memory is so horrible that seeing it every day is an equally happy occasion as when I first acquired the item. Additionally, there is usually a lovely story with every one of my favorite things and the thing is an ever available reminder of the story. Below are a few of my favorites.

There is something very happy about a pineapple. They’re delicious. They have a nice, almost quilted texture and are yellow. They don’t get smooshed in a suitcase like other fruit. They remind me of a trip I took as a young teenager to Colonial Williamsburg where my fascination with the 18th Century began. This pineapple began life in our house as a very nice smelling candle. It’s all-white color reminds me of Queens Ware, a very popular type of dishware of the 18th Century. It one of the things in my house that makes me feel I am tied to the past.

The little incense burner next to it is from a Muslim store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. We used to go once a month to pick up essential oils, black soap, and incense. I have tried to keep as much Brooklyn as I can and this is small, decorative, and useful and therefore easy to keep. Right now, we have a nice woodsy scent wafting about and are looking forward to fall.


One of my favorite artists is Albrecht Dürer, who was known as the Divinci of the North, also being highly talented in art and mathematics during the renaissance. The print below, in an appropriately amazing frame, came to me via my mother who received the print from my uncle.

For years, “Uncle Albert,” as he was affectionately known, hung above my mom’s piano. I spent hours and hours practicing below his watchful gaze. Eventually Uncle Albert found his way to our house and he fits in well as we have the oldest house, I believe, of our family (except perhaps relatives in Germany). I did some research and discovered the subject is Maximilian of Austria. We like having this piece of Germanic history to remind us of our personal connection to our heritage.

Besides, I have a feeling he keeps the print of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Water Pitcher” company since she hangs opposite (you can see the frame in the reflection). I like to imagine they have lengthy conversations about math and the domestic household, maybe about the angle of light and the virtue of clean windows…

Maximillian II, Albrecht Durer

Below, is another one of those things that ended up in our house because I love the 18th Century. I had to wait years until I found one for a reasonable price. It’s somewhat practical since I can sort of check my makeup and hair before leaving the house. Anyway, that’s how I justified it.

You know those stories where people end up in other places when they go into an armoire or walk into the fireplace? I think it would be awesome if I could visit the 18th Century through my portal. Alas, nothing yet but if you look at photos of well-appointed 18th Century sitting rooms, there are often portals. I feel quite fancy with my portal and quite at one with my inner history geek. And look! My living room appears to be spacious.

portal to the 18th century

Finally, this year I celebrated a very big milestone birthday. Sometimes this sort of birthday makes people a little gloomy. However, it is impossible to be even remotely glum when I have Humphrey to cheer me up. I had wanted a jackalope for years but I needed a good reason to have something that isn’t remotely practical. Every day I smile as I put on my shoes. He’s so awesomely awesome I can’t even explain it. And he has a distinguished smirk. He reminds me not to take myself too seriously and that there is always room for imagination and amazing things no matter how old you get.


I do think adventure and experience are good for the soul. But, these material, domestic things are like little happiness speed bumps that remind me to slow down and appreciate what I have and where I’m at and a little bit of what makes me, me.


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