At some point in our lives we’ll hear a rendition of “every day is new day.” Whether you read it in the words of Confucius or hear them from Taylor Swift, every bit is true and wise. Every moment hereafter is a new chance to do something differently, even if that only means putting less sugar in your coffee. For this reason, I hope you’ll find this enlightening, even inspiring. After all, I’ve discovered that I wouldn’t be the same person or as happy as I am today if I didn’t make this one adjustment to my lifestyle.
In recent years, I’ve invested my efforts wholly to experiences instead of possessions. What I mean exactly is prioritizing circumstances that result in lasting memories (for good or bad) rather than tangible items. For instance, if given the choice between attending a play for $100 and spending that hundred on a new blouse, I would choose the former. Other experiences might include concerts, plays or festivals. Of course, I’m not suggesting I wouldn’t spend money on necessities. Sustenance and shelter are two basic needs I can’t argue against. But does a person really need a 4,000 square foot house to survive? Or drink hundred-dollar bottles of wine every dinner? I can’t imagine wasting money on items I don’t need or items that offer nothing to the grand scheme of things.
Of course, I still lust over shiny, gadgets or a glamorous new purse. On occasion, I surrender to these fancies. But I value experiences too much to let these desires determine my happiness. I’ve learned that the cosmetic value of possessions doesn’t transcend the item itself. Instead, a shoe is still a shoe, even if they cost a grand. I remember my mother once telling me that you can’t take your wealth with you to the grave. I find this truer now than I ever did before.
This wasn’t always the case, though. I admit to being a little spoiled growing up. There was a time I thought I needed designer clothes to be happy. We’d take trips out of town for the sole purpose of back to school shopping, because I wasn’t satisfied with the local selection. Back then, goals included buying a luxury car and starting a high-end shoe collection a la Sex and the City. For Pete’s sake, I even collected shopping bags from luxury stores!
Now, I choose to spend my money differently. For me, the endeavor to be happy manifested, naturally, into traveling. I was born to parents who’d spent a great deal living and traveling between Europe and Asia. In additional, having an older sibling with the same desire to travel, made the transition easier since the emotional support was already there. This is not to say that traveling is, by any means, more accessible to me than others. I am subjected to the same resources any common American has. (And that is what this blog is partially about: offering valuable resources to average travelers like myself.)
I can pinpoint this life-changing discovery to seven summers ago. I was visiting New York City for the second time. It occurred to me that while there, I suddenly lacked the desire to shop. I should mention that my previous trip and early plans consisted of shopping and admiring high-end fashion. In place of visiting the luxury boutiques I spent the previous month compiling into a list, I wanted to try food, people watch in Central Park, bike, and live like a local. I discovered by the end of the trip that I was just as happy, even more, than when I left with a dozen new dresses.
From then on, I stopped lusting after Chanel bags and hoping Christmas would bring me the latest iPhone. Planning a future in a multi-million dollar penthouse no longer seemed as desirable. The truth is, if I were still chasing those futile possessions, I might not have traveled to any of the four corners of the world. And if I had, my experiences might have been indifferent and filtered (a topic that needs a post of its own). I imagine my money would have disappeared into empty vessels that carry little to no significance. As a member of the middle-class, I would have been subjected to extreme hours of work, levels of stress and unnecessary jealousy. This is a situation I regret to see for many people I am acquainted with. But every day is a new day.
How experiences, instead of possessions, made me happier (and can make you happier):
Less Stress & Negativity
Since prioritizing experiential purchases, I’ve discovered I don’t feel the need to “escape” from reality with a vacation. I’m always looking forward to a new adventure. Granted, I am a self-titled travel writer, the amount of time I actually spend “traveling” takes up only a small portion of my calendar year. Between trips, I rely on other experiences like running, writing, hiking, eating, and attending events. I’ve become less aware of comparing my assets to my peers. I’ve stopped standardizing my life based on society’s model. This creates less stress, and less stress prevents a whole lot of negativity.
The human body is capable of amazing things at any age, but youth is still fleeting. There are thousands of activities I might not get the opportunity to participate in if I wait. I certainly don’t imagine myself trekking through Borneo at age seventy and not considering, for a moment, what it might’ve been like if I was younger. Life is unpredictable and short; I don’t want to have to ask myself “what if?”
The best part of participating in activities is sharing the experience with others. Even if things don’t go as planned, they end up making great stories to share later on. I remember getting caught in a flash flood on a hike through Na’ili’ili Haele. We clutched clumps of dirt and tender roots from the vertical bank to keep us from falling into the engorged stream. There’s also the time I sprained my ankle meters away from the finish line of my first Spartan obstacle race. I’d ended up being carried the rest of the way by my boyfriend and fellow teammate. They lifted me through firepit and all. Both times, I’d expected different outcomes, but now they’re stories that brings us all together.
Experience the Sublime
Before I adjusted my lifestyle, I had never experienced transcendence. I only imagined what it must feel like to stand before something completely beyond my existence. Being on the edges of ordinary grounds my appreciation for life. Only in nature have I found myself I don’t believe a TV of any size can do this.
No Experience is the Same
If exclusivity is a great determining factor for you, consider that no experience of mine is or ever will be identical. I won’t suddenly find myself walking into a room to find a person with the same experience in Poneloya as mine. Even if I attended an event with others, my experience is uniquely my own. You can’t say that about a new Michael Kors watch.
Memories > Money
Money isn’t everything. As I’ve mentioned before, youth is fleeting, and life is short. I want to spend what time I have with people who matter to me. I’d rather have years of memories with my family and friends than a mansion full of materialistic objects.
Perspective, Perspective, Perspective!
Most importantly, shifting the focus from material possessions to experiences altered my perspective in many ways. Traveling has given me a greater awareness of global circumstances. I used to be an advocate for organic diets and sourcing local ingredients. At one point, I even snubbed national food chains and supermarkets. Now, I can’t stomach to be choosey about my food when many parts of the world struggle to survive. It’s changed who I am and for the better.
While my peers and the rest of the world might be buying or leasing new cars (to replace a decent, old one) or climbing the real estate ladder, or extending their Loubs collection, I’m gaining priceless memories and wisdom. To the general population, this might seem extremely unappealing. I’m okay with that.