Want to really change your life with one simple step? Try buying experiences instead of things. There’s nothing I’m necessarily opposed to about having ‘things’, it’s more about why you want those things. In the western hemisphere, we’re raised within a capitalistic society that is all about consumption; buying things for consumption keeps the system prosperous. We’re trained that we need to buy the latest and greatest to feel good either about our environment or ourselves. When we buy things, if you took a moment to ask the question, “Is this purchase going to better my life in a unique and lasting way?”, we can say ‘probably not’, in most cases. The phone model you own, be it version six, seven, eight, or whatever, is probably going to give you exactly the same thing as the newest shiny one; and perhaps you would be better off skipping that purchase. No one really cares which iPhone you have. In the end, you’ve spent money you didn’t really need to, and nothing has really changed in your life.
So why are experiences more important? I believe that experiences connect us much more deeply to our purpose, and our purpose is about how we want to feel. Experiences allow storytelling for a lifetime and the connection with others as those stories are shared. Those feelings can be replayed over and over again, filling you up; whereas ‘things’ begin to corrode and tarnish in a very short amount of time…not to mention value depreciation!
‘Things’ appeal to our ego as we accumulate them thinking they determines our self-worth, while experiences actually complement who we are. Material attainment used to define us; in reality, it ends up having no value because there’s never enough to fill us up. It’s like a hole in your pants pocket that is incapable of holding anything of value. Experiences fill our sense of adventure, safety, filling up our emotions, love, and connection…our real needs.
There’s a great book called Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn. In it, she tells us that material things, from beautiful homes to fancy pens, turn out to provide less happiness than experiential purchases like a trip, a concert, or a special meal. See, whether you’re spending $2 or $200,000, buying experiences rather than material goods can inoculate you against buyer’s remorse.
I was coaching a billionaire and he had this incredible-sized yacht, and man was he was so proud of it. I mean this thing cost multimillions of dollars. A month later, a new neighbor at the dock pulls in with a boat that was four feet longer. Suddenly, this “thing” that he was so excited about lost all its value, just because somebody else’s boat was four feet longer than his. No longer being the biggest and best, it was tarnished in his mind. The joy had fallen out of this enormous purchase, and buyer’s remorse started settling in. This mindset is an insatiable appetite that promotes putting some people in serious debt and depression.
Let’s look at universities as another example feeding the need for things at a young age. When I went to college, credit card companies were not allowed on campuses. Now, they exhibit predatorial behavior on college campuses (‘Here, spend money you don’t really have’), knowing that there’s no way a student can pay it off. But they now have a credit card to satisfy whatever they want in its immediacy. We are allowing card companies to teach our youth that they can have the biggest and best without thought of how something will serve their purpose in the future or how to earn it.
Experiences are about behavior; moments that either last or are fleeting. Both connect us to our feelings and remind us of abundance, while ‘things’ are generally about scarcity, limited edition, and maybe not enough. Experiences often allow us to share and give out these moments and can allow other people to participate in the joy and gratitude that we experience again-and-again.
In reality, some ‘things’ are necessary. Try to connect the acquisition of those things to experiences, like buying a fancy bottle of wine and then sharing it with others. They get to partake and you’re shared joy becomes the experience. That’s so much better than buying an expensive bottle to putt on a shelf in your wine cellar.
Keep in mind, not all experiences are about just positive things. In a negative experience you may learn something about the nature of yourself or another person, and your connection to it. You get to experience your strengths and your weaknesses, which reminds us of our humanity: We are human beings before we are human doings.
Let me say again, I’m not opposed to having things. To grow and receive fulfillment you need ‘things’ to be about the experiences. Not about if you’re driving the right car, own the right house, live in the right neighborhood, whatever that is. The yacht is about creating unique moments that take you to a destination of experiences. You want the car you drive to serve your purpose. Maybe you have a large family and you want them to feel safe when you’re on the road. You might want a good-sized SUV that can take you all anywhere with certainty and safety to a national park.
Another example: Maybe you want your children to attend schools in a certain district that is rated higher in education or sports, and the houses in that area are a bit more expensive. You know that the neighborhood has the right schools, is safe, and may also be more convenient for shopping or services. The area may also be more beautiful than other areas, and this can bring you joy of beauty every day. All these factors may make the investment exactly the right thing for you and your family to experience and serve your purpose.[JC1]
Too often in our society we identify or define where we are in our social status or social ranking by what we have. We have been conditioned to think this way, as that was the way of our ancestor’s hierarchical social system, but the world is evolving, so we no longer need to view who is more successful by the size of their house or the price of their jeans.
One of my clients (let’s call him Joe) shared a story with me about a gentleman from South Alabama. Joe had gone to work at a big company with a beautiful, park-like campus. Every morning when Joe came to work, he would see this same gentleman, who was in his later years, wearing overalls, a white T-shirt, and old boots. He would be washing down the parking lot with a hose, or walking around with a bag picking up trash. After several months, Joe asked one of his co-workers who the grounds keeper was. As it turned out, this man owned all the land that this company leased with their fancy buildings, and the man just wanted to keep it clean and beautiful. He was a multi-millionaire, but his purpose in life was taking care of the beauty of what he owned. He enjoyed the experience as he knew other people shared in that beauty coming to work each day.
What I’m offering is not to say buying things are not an either/or, but instead allow it to be a yes/and. I have quality things, some very nice things because they complement me. They don’t define me. I don’t buy a certain vehicle because it gives people approval, a successful look or to make people jealous. I buy things that serve my purpose and provides experiences that bring me joy. When we combine quality things that allow us to have quality experiences, then we’re actually creating a “yes and” moment. I believe that’s what is important. It seems to me that giving something importance around experiences is the goal; and let me add that you may not have to pay a lot for a thing, to give it power. Like going on a picnic with someone you love or taking your family to the zoo. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Tahiti, right?
The point is how do we have high quality, powerful, epic, legendary experiences that allow us to honor fiscal responsibility and our budgets. Like one of my clients who just loves really high-quality clothes, shoes and purses. She buys all the name brands at resale shops and she only cares about buying things that she loves that are beautiful, things that make her feel pretty and are well made and will last her a very long time.
What about having local experiences? In the book, Happy Money, there’s an example by the author Elizabeth Dunn, where she says that many residents of London have never visited Big Ben. Well, what stops them? When something wonderful is always available, people are less inclined to appreciate it according to this author and I agree. There are people who live in amazing cities who have never taken the opportunity to visit the amazing museums and parks which in many cases are free to the public. So, take a look at what’s in your backyard right now! Is there a national park or a state park in your area? What about having a game night once a week where your family can spend quality time together? Perhaps you could contribute to your community by participating in an activity that is serving a charity for a day each month? What I did with my family for many years was a build up towards Christmas. We created experiences going out to cut down our tree, hikes in the snow, and ringing the bell for Salvation Army.
So, the question then becomes, “How do you define or how do you choose?” How do you know that you’re buying an experience that will last? When you’re making decisions, look at, the seven characteristics of a Legendary Lifestyle®. Are those seven characteristics being met in anything that you choose to purchase or experience?
1) Is there a sense of mission? 2) Are you doing it from a place of freedom? 3) Is it from a place of love? 4) Is there a sense of adventure. 5) Does it fill you up? 6) Do you feel safe? 7) Are you able to speak your truth through love?
If the answers of the vast majority are present, then by all means move forward in it.
But if there are elements that are missing, ask yourself why you are doing this? Are you doing it to satisfy an ego or to get societal approval or are you doing it because it brings you closer to your purpose, to how you want to feel? Quality experiences really come alive is when there are stories that we want to tell for a lifetime. Experiences must include growth and the ability to contribute beyond ourselves. Some of the greatest stories are initially struggles or tragedy that turned into gifts.
Here are some examples of my own experiences:
I always wanted to go on a mission trip. Remember if we’re not careful and clear in our request to the universe it’s going to fill in the blanks. So, the universe said, “Great. You want to go on a missionary trip? The leader just quit, and you get to be the leader.” This has now become over a decade of immersing people and bringing people to our foundation in Guatemala. Giving them an experience that they cannot get in the United States, an experience of gratitude and connection. Gratitude for what they have versus what they take for granted.
I can say that I’ve had amazing experiences in the Arctic Circle and experiences their local culture with my family, a very different story than Guatemala.
I’ve had some very challenging, incredibly difficult experiences that I can tell for a lifetime; from being a major sponsored Iron Man Triathlete, leading a team across the Grand Canyon and back in two days, or Kokoro, the world’s most difficult workout.
I was in the United States Marine Corps and that was quite an experience that I can say was incredibly difficult and I had to earn the privilege to say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
I have been involved in many adventure sports like 12 hours rock climbing on the face of a cliff and backcountry skiing. But the ones that matter the most in my memories are the Christmas family get-togethers and raising my son. Walking my son to school nearly every day has been one of the greatest joys, regardless of the weather. Learning to find what’s right in any situation, regardless of heat, rain, or frigid cold is what adds depth to the experience.
I think that as a society, we’re losing a sense of humanity and thinking that experiences can happen in 30-second clips like on social media. There is a new practice of communication that it now is acceptable to send a 5-word text to express something of meaning, not! Sometimes we have to remember to carve out some time to be humans and have human interactions and experiences. Take some time for ourselves maybe meditate, pray, and deepen our connections. Maybe pick up a phone and share yourself with another human being. Create new experiences that you can pass along in a story that last for generations.