For about 5 years, I ran a holiday company (Akwa Holidays) focused on packaging holidays for Nigerians to destinations across the globe. The biggest challenge the business faced was the mind-set of most Nigerians who valued possessions more than experience. Let me explain.
For most Nigerians, their preference would be to buy a flight ticket to Dubai, London or New York for a shopping spree. We are so renowned for this that currently we rank 4th after China, Russia and Middle East for foreigners who shop in the UK. On top of that, we rank number one for countries with excess baggage on international flights and I believe in a few years (if not already achieved), we will be number one for air freighting of personal goods. We import more personal goods than manufacturing or production equipment into the country.
So, most Nigerians would prefer to spend their savings & holidays visiting a country where they can buy designer clothes, watches, shoes, cars, furniture, technological goods, etc. Only a small minority are interested in visiting places where they can encounter history (museums, tours, etc.), experience the culture (lifestyle, dance, music, drink, food, etc.), enjoy nature (chilling at the beach, fishing, whale spotting, boat cruise, mountain hiking, countryside walks) and be blown away by adrenaline pumping activities (pleasure rides at theme parks, karting, motor racing, skiing, etc.).
So, it can be concluded that the generality (the majority) of Nigerians value possessions more than experience. For those with a lot of possession more is desired and for those with none, their deep desires (dominant on their prayer points) is for their own possessions. It is no wonder ours is still an underdeveloped nation.
During my years in the UK, I learnt that several of my English peers had a focus on experience rather than possession and as a result, I observed that their personal development was accelerated much quickly than mine. The experience & insights of a 30 year in the West is more than that of a 30 year old Nigerian and focus on experience over possession plays a key role. They were not superior or more educated but with a better human development, their contributions to national & global development were significantly more.
So, why is experience better than possessions?
Experience is less comparable: Possessions are very comparable and that is because every time we acquire something, there is always a better or newer model out there and in no time, we see people with that model. The moment this happens, we lose our initial excitement, ignore the benefits we get and start desiring for the better or newer model (which usually comes every year).
But those who have embarked on holiday for example, will not lose the excitement of their experience just because someone they know had a better package. The experiences stay with them and impact them in more ways than they can imagine as we will explore later.
Experts confirm that people are less self-conscious when comparing experiences than they are about possessions. According to Thomas Gilovich, professor and chairman of the psychology department at Cornell University, “It will probably bother you more that your friend's home theater is better than yours than if your friend saw more sights on her South Seas vacation.”
Memories: Memories of the arrival of your baby, graduation ceremony, wedding day, playing with your parents, family & friends during childhood days, sights and sounds of various cities, doing things that seemed impossible (like running a marathon or a 3-7 dry fast) are of greater value to any human being than the best possession. We’ve ignored this because of our current culture places much value on possession.
But when a loved one departs (which is inevitable), it is the great memories we had with them that helps our recovery process and provides the strength to move forward. It is not the possessions they bought us or what we bought them that make up a great memory. For example, I may be over 40 years of age but I regularly recall the numerous times my late dad and I will have impromptu dance to Sonny Okosun & Jackson 5 in the living room during my childhood and no gift received compares to such a memory.
It is becoming rare these days but many years back, it was common to see family albums at a very visible spot in the living room. This was so that family can share their memories with their guest & with themselves. I really believe we should bring back those days and use latest digital technology to our advantage.
Satisfaction & Happiness: Psychological research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions.
In 2009, Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, presented his findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting. He stated, “That's in part because the initial joy of acquiring a new object, such as a new car, fades over time as people become accustomed to seeing it every day. Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred.”
He added, “Most psychologists who study the phenomenon say people adapt to a new purchase in six to eight weeks, up to a maximum of three months. That means the initial pleasure we get from a new possession generally fades in a matter of months.”
Satisfaction over an experience usually increases when we revisit the memories (through pictures souvenirs, stories) but the satisfaction over a possession usually decreases as the possession loses its value due to usage.
Good experience brings greater happiness than possession because people cling forever to the memory of an experience that made them satisfied.
Experience is more social: Most times, the possession we acquire is about meeting our needs and so used by us only. In the case of an experience, it will most likely involve a family, friend, neighbour or colleague. In the rare occasion we go for an experience alone, we find ourselves making friends with strangers and having memorable fun together.
Human beings are naturally wired to be social and when we become focused on possessions, we become inhumane as we put possessions above family & friends. Yet, it is the experience we share with others that produces amazing memories and happiness.
It is interesting to note that even the little joy our possession gives us is mostly when we are sharing it with others or telling others of its features.
Experience makes you come alive: Another reason why experience is better according to researchers is that people felt a greater sense of vitality or "being alive" during the experience.
According Ryan Howell, "As nice as your new computer is, it's not going to make you feel alive," he said. But when you experience some of the world’s amazing sights or experience live concerts of a megastar or attended a live football match of a great football team, the buzz does not fade away many years after. But more than that, we really do come alive in such we way that we begin to dream and to believe in the impossible. I believe this also gives a boost to our health.
Personal Identity: Because experience brings us alive, it can also be a great tool for discovering our personal identity. So, whilst possession is limited to the surface benefit of the item, an experience can lead us to discover a deep passion hidden within us.
My experience of reading loads of books got me to discover a hidden passion for writing, blogging and public speaking. I have since written my first book and launched a blog (bobbyudoh.com). My experience with reading came late but when it did, it transformed me.
In a recent psychology research conducted by Carter and Gilovich, they stated that, “People use experiences to define their sense of self more than they use possessions. People in their study talked about their experiences more than possessions when they told their “life stories””.
Maintenance: With an experience, you’re not likely to be in need of maintenance which must apply with possession. The cost and time required to maintain or repair our possession can be demanding and in many occasions quite stressful (especially when we consider the lack of experienced hands who deliver excellent work). Most times, it is the quality time required to create great memories with the family, friends and colleagues that suffer.
How will our nation benefit from having a people who value experiences more than possessions?
Purposeful Living: When we enjoy many experiences, we come alive & discover ourselves and as a result, we are excited about life & what we can offer. But more than that, we become a people who believe in possibilities which would lead us to be solution oriented rather than problem focused. This will produce a people who live purposefully and are goals oriented.
People Oriented rather than things oriented: Nation-building is primarily about human development and that can happen at an accelerated pace when we invest most of our time into people rather than into things.
Innovative: Various experiences we encounter train the mind to think outside the box and generate ideas that are innovative. It also makes us adventurous (exploring things that might seem impossible or scary) and imaginative. How our nation so desperately need innovative solutions to our problems
Initiate ideas: We will become a people of action initiating ideas that will lead to change.
Courage: The courage gained from the various experiences gives us the deeper courage to stand by our values and sustain our ideas, despite the opposition.
Worldview: We have our horizon broaden and perspectives are no longer just regional. When we travel around our country, continent and the rest of the world, we remove prejudices and gain more understanding of the fact that we all have the same needs, wants and desires.
Nation-builders: We become aware that a developed society guarantees a better daily experience and so we commit to using our God given talent to build ourselves, our community and our nation.
The new IG recently removed checkpoints on our roads and the experience has been amazing for many road users who find journey times has reduced and stress of unnecessary stop & search removed. What other experiences can we offered ourselves and fellow Nigerians?
Interestingly, when we suffer a breakdown or burnout and need time to recuperate, we usually desire experience and not possession. That is the time we appreciate time spent with family & friends, visiting places, eating special delicacies, reading books, etc. So, experience delivers when we need to recuperate and it delivers when we’ve lost a love one.
But more importantly, it delivers a people committed to building & sustaining a developed nation. Knowing this, it is time you and I focus less on possessions and become a people we value experiences more.
Bobby Udoh is a nation-building evangelist, passionate blogger, impact public speaker, trainer and change agent. You can order the nation-building book at http://bobbyudoh.com/buy-the-book/