A two-decade-long study from Cornell University concludes that experiences produce greater happiness than do things. This comes as no surprise to me.
For the last 18 years at Grit Daily syndicate partner, International Living, I’ve been writing about a group of people who must be among the happiest Americans on the planet: Folks retired outside the U.S.. They’ve traded lives in the States—a country where “things” have great currency—for lives abroad, where every day there’s something new and exciting to experience.
It makes for a very satisfying life. I say that from first-hand experience. Since 2001, my wife and I have been living and traveling abroad ourselves and sharing with the readers of International Living stories from others happily doing the same.
To be perfectly honest, these have never been tough stories to tell, especially to people facing retirement in the U.S. As stock markets and national healthcare policies take their ever-wilder, ever-more-frequent swings, it’s a tougher time than ever to be nearing retirement in the States. Never mind trying to have the retirement of your dreams, retiring at all is rapidly coming off the table.
“Work until you drop” is the new pension plan for a growing number of people.
That’s why it isn’t difficult to convince folks that, with a single move to the right place, they can effectively cut their cost of living in half without sacrificing a high-quality lifestyle that includes excellent medical care.
The idea that experiences make us happier than buying “things” does is good news for folks who travel—and even live or retire—overseas. Their lives are full of adventure.
I’ve lived in seven different communities in four countries. So when I say to friends back in the States that, from my personal experience, I know that moving to the right place overseas can not only cut your cost of living in half, but also make your life more interesting, enjoyable, healthy, and fun, well, it’s not hard to convince regular working folks nearing retirement age in the U.S. right now.
A harder story to tell—but one that I’m convinced is true—is that this is, by far, the best time in history to be alive.
That’s tough for folks living in the U.S. to believe, where the most bizarre, troubling, and seemingly apocalyptic news imaginable seems to occur daily.
But my wife and I just returned from our first—and long overdue—tour of Europe, and the perspective we gained was invaluable.
From Belfast to Edinburgh, Berlin to Prague, Vienna to Rome, to Barcelona…without exception, every major European city we visited was bustling, thriving, alive with pride, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit. These are some of the oldest settlements in the Western world, with long, long histories, and they are thriving.
They have problems—there are always problems, just as in the rest of the world. But the plain fact is that, by many measures, there are fewer countries at war in the world today, and more people living better lives, than at any other time in human history.
As we toured Europe—and as we compared these ancient cultural capitals and the incredible lifestyle they offered to our equally incredible and peaceful lives in Latin America—we started to get it. We started to see a bigger picture of human civilization.
Technology offers the real promise of nearly limitless energy and nearly limitless food. There are institutions and processes on national and global levels deliberately designed to solve human conflict without bloodshed. Medicine and healthcare have doubled the average human lifespan. And there is now a global digital network that gives anyone with a smartphone access to the sum total of human knowledge—everything ever learned or discovered. Really. It’s all right there on the other side of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This is a stunning state of affairs. And it’s one that’s not intuitively obvious. But all it takes to see it is a shift in perspective.
For North Americans who feel locked into a future of political divisiveness and dwindling retirement, healthcare, and happiness options, all sorts of countries in Latin America, Europe, and Southeast Asia represent a potential shift in perspective. A chance to get outside the bubble of bad news, low expectations, and financial limitations, and instead, to see how cool the world really is—how liveable, how enjoyable, how packed with adventure and opportunity.
As I said, I know this to be true. I live with and write about the people who are doing it right now, all over the world. They are living their dream retirements (and in many cases, happily continuing to work…but at something they love and have always wanted to do) in beautiful and exotic places all over the planet.
And all these people have something in common: They all improved their lives dramatically by simply moving to a place where the weather suits their clothes and the cost of living suits their wallet. And they all, like me, are filled with hope and excitement about the experiences that life has in store.