In happiness literature, there’s a general distinction between “stuff” and “experiences.” Experiences tend to make us happier than things. The problem is that a lot of experiences are enabled by stuff. So the line isn’t always so clear.
A lot of the experiences my kids had this past weekend involved stuff that we actively chose to spend money on over the years. They made a last minute decision to go swimming around twilight on Saturday night, which was possible because we decided a few years ago to buy a house with a backyard pool. We roasted marshmallows over our fire pit, which was possible because we purchased that fire pit and a few outdoor chairs. Then the boys and my husband camped out in the backyard, an experience enabled by our tent (and an air mattress and sleeping bags; even so, when it rained from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., I think my husband would have been happier not to have had this experience).
The kids enjoyed it all. Indeed, when we went to the Reading Fair on Sunday, their favorite part of the experience may well have been winning stuffed animals in various games. We kept pushing the rides, but the honest truth is they were just as excited to play a silly game and pick out cheap toys. The cheap-o stuff was a key part of the experience.
I’m not sure there’s a larger point to this, other than that money and happiness are complicated topics. I doubt the cheap fairground toys will bring much joy to my kids long term. They’ll be clutter soon enough. But for a day, at least, the stuff and the experience were the same.
What stuff has enabled your summer experiences?