Why exploring a new trail beats a new iPad every time

We’re introducing a new series on our favorite outdoor spots to get our sweaty bliss on. We’re calling it “Destination: Run.” Have a trail or park in your area you want to rave about? Drop us a line at editor@dailymile.com.

I love sipping hot green tea in the morning as I gear up for a new day. Like Trix boxes for the older (ahem, wiser) set, some tea bags dole out something to read with that super antioxidant boost. Recently, my little tag of wisdom had this to say: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Hmm…why did that sound familiar? Oh, right. It reminded me of something I’d read just the day before.

Cesare Pavese was on to something.

In fact, if he’d written things rather than days, he’d have hit it on the head. Rather than all the stuff we covet and spend our money on, to have a truly memorable and happy life, the latest neuroscience research tells us that experiences are the better investment.

Especially in the long-term. TIME magazine:

There’s been a lot of recent research on this subject. [...]

If you’re conflicted about whether to spend money on a material good (say, a computer) or personal experience (say, a vacation), the research says you’ll get much more satisfaction — and for longer — if you choose the experience. Most of us, it turns out, get more bang from the experiential buck. Indeed, when people are asked to recall their most significant material and experiential purchases over the previous five years, they report that the experience brought more joy, was a source of more enduring satisfaction and was more clearly “money well spent.”

You’d think that buying the computer (or whatever) would be the better deal.  I mean, it’s a tangible item that you can see, touch and use every day. But, experiences? They’re over before you know it, and then what do you have to show for it? Memories, that’s what.

Items quickly melt into our environment. We get used to them.

We adapt to our things. They lose their emotional shimmer. Sniffle and boo. But the time and money you spent traveling to and competing in your races last year and the year before? Chances are those recollections still sparkle and shine for you today.

Fair warning: If you didn’t PR, this may not apply to you. ;-)

Reminiscing on trails you’ve trudged and races you’ve run in the past probably brings a smile to your face still today. They’re worthwhile investments, the TIME piece goes on to say, because they’re unique and all your own. Millions of people have an iPad just like yours, but who else snagged that 1st place AG finish at last year’s Bumper Crop 10K? No one!

Of course, dailymilers know this.

We consistently hike or run trails, or cycle endless country roads. We’re racers who finish a grueling competition under hot and humid conditions, or that rally every drop of energy and focus to complete a challenging course…and come out smiling. Sometimes, we even slow down to soak in the active and noisy, yet quiet and serene stillness of nature.

Okay. Sure. We like our stuff, too.

Treadmills come in handy on super icy or sweltering, gonna-roast-outside days. If you like to cycle…well, you need some wheels, so why not splurge on something special? Some of us can’t imagine a world without our Garmins. Racing flats and technical tees? Even more of us can’t imagine a pile too high of ‘em in our closets.

But, I don’t think the research lays down an either/or proposition to this merry memory-making. Things come in handy. Having a house and a bed, for example, are nifty things to own. But, once those basic needs are met, what’s better at promoting well-being? Stuff or life experiences? I put my money down on experience…five bucks worth, to be exact.

Last Friday, I trekked out for my first visit to Minnesota’s Afton State Park. Closed for three weeks due to Minnesota’s budget impasse, it was the first day visitors were once again able to drive in, park and enjoy the place. So, I leaped at the chance.

What did I get for my $5 entrance fee?

I hiked on crushed gravel roadways; paved pathways; rocky and rooty dirt trails down to the St. Croix River; cut-out grass lanes; pine-needle strewn paths; stairs and bridges built by the Minnesota Conservation Corps; and a sandy beach (small and rocky, but it was the real thing and not something this Midwesterner gets to experience every day).

I was also surrounded by swaths of colorful wildflowers in bloom: yellow daises; white yarrow; black-eyed susans; Canadian horseweed; beebalm (a busy native red ladybudy exploring every inch of one specimen); bellflowers; vervains; butter-and-eggs; mulleins and thistle. A friendly grasshopper let me spend quite a bit of time photographing it (even standing still while I moved grass away from him so I could get a clearer shot). And an even friendlier Giant Swallowtail butterfly circled me over and over, and finally landed near my foot. I even got to pet it. How’s that for money well spent?!


See all of my Afton State Park photos here.

Finally, the TIME article I mentioned above ended on the following note:

This, by the way, is one post we hope will be read by policy-makers, philanthropists and other types who make decisions involving public money. It’s hard for people to have the kinds of experiences that do so much to promote well-being if there are no trails to hike or ride, and if local and national parks are run down or shuttered.

I couldn’t agree more.

About Ilona M.

A Midwest-based digital journalist, author and 2011 dailymile team ambassador, Ilona loves trail running, forest hiking, road biking, open water swimming, free weights, meditation and yoga. Aiming to balance her love of motion with the sedentary and still pursuits of research and writing, she hearts dailymile because it keeps her moving, laughing, learning and growing.
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