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Living well

Stuff is nice, but experiences are nicer

Consumerism would have you believe that the more ‘stuff’ you have, the happier you’ll be. But research shows that this isn’t the case.

The happiness pursuit

Up to a point, money makes you happy. But once your basic needs are met you reach a point of diminishing returns. The question then is: how do we best use our money to make us happier? Science has the answer – experiences!

Psychology research by Prof. Thomas Gilovich, from Cornell University, shows that experiences, rather than possessions, are more satisfying and bring more enduring happiness. We might think purchasing an object we can have forever will lead to lasting happiness, but we adapt and the shiny new thing loses its sparkle. So what once brought us pleasure to begin with, eventually stops giving us the same shoppers’ high. On the other hand, experiences give us memories, long after the actual event, and this cultivates more enduring levels of happiness.

Why are family holidays such great experiences?

Family holidays are the perfect experiential purchase for health and happiness, and the 86% of HBF Healthy Family Holidays survey respondents who believed both parent and child equally benefited from a family holiday can’t be wrong.

According to survey participants, learning new things and creating happy memories were among the top benefits of family holidays (84% and 89% respectively, for children and 62% and 84% for parents).

Holiday health benefits for children

Holiday health benefits for children

Holiday health benefits for parents

Holiday health benefits for parents

Shared experiences and positive memories can also help to build resilience within children. Dr Cathie Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Australian Catholic University, explains, “Positive memories give children a stronger sense of who they are in the world, that they are valued and can make a difference. Positive memories can support resilience and help children through the tough times. Memories are a shared bond. They build the strength of the collective so the people within it can withstand and pull together in the tough times.”

Lloyd Fernandez, Clinical and Counselling Psychologist, and Coordinator of Psychological Services at Ngala explains how the unique benefits of holidays, in particular, can be a healthy family bonding experience, “On holidays we change the lens of our experiences. We leave behind our usual schedules and routines, and instead, take with us an openness to adventure, the unknown and new experiences. Holidays especially enable children to soak up more of their parents who drop the ‘traffic manager’ persona and are themselves more relaxed.”

Holidays can also help foster happiness through connections. “Families that go away together are exposed to different cultures, environments and people. This opens up an opportunity for communication between children and their parents, which helps to foster greater connection and understanding,” explains Fernandez.

There are also other benefits to shared connection. According to Prof. Jennie Hudson, Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, “Memories and stories shape who we are. Holidays can provide opportunities for children to discover new information about the world and about how they cope with situations. Talking about the family’s positive experiences together also helps to build relationships. Not the event itself necessarily, but the talking about it.”

Developing memories

Creating memories on holidays can also help memory development in children. Author, Parenting Educator and Resilience Specialist, Maggie Dent explains, “Our memories are anchored much more deeply when there are strong emotions present. That is why powerful, scary memories anchor so deeply in the brain alongside those memories that were accompanied by exquisite joy. And positive memories are also formed when we repeat significantly positive experiences. That is why so many families return to the same camp-site or holiday spot throughout childhood — it’s not just because they can’t think of anywhere else to go, but because memories are made from doing the same fun thing year after year.”

Besides happy memories, holidays can also help mental health. Dent explains, “Being able to recall such moments puts us back into the joy we felt at the time ... that is a wonderful protective factor against depression.”

Holidays also help to enhance social relationships and can play a big part in shaping a person’s identity. According to Fernandez, “Neuroscience research tells us that brain development is not just a structural thing, but it’s dependant on quality experiences too, and this brain development also helps to shape a person’s identity.” Fernandez goes on to explain that these social connections aren’t just limited to a child’s parents. “Family holidays can also include grandparents, other relatives and close family friends, which all help to foster a wider support system and deepen the bonds between a child and their other relatives.”

Read the full HBF Healthy Family Holidays Report.

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