Experience is the new it thing. We’re experience junkies, chasing experiences like storm chasers chase tornados. Walk into any shop and it’s all about the experience—free water, espresso, salespeople that like you, home-baked cookies, in-store entertainment, shoulder rubs, and the list goes on. On social media, it’s all about posting photos of ourselves having amazing and of course one of a kind experiences: swimming in a pool of foam balls, navigating an ice palace before it melts, escaping an escape room, diving inside a real-life snow globe, scaling a mountain of jelly beans or a modern Mr. potato head, imagining your way out of an Alice in Wonderland maze. And not to be forgotten, the stand-alone experiences to enhance our well-being: sound baths, mindfulness sessions, impromptu (not) sing-alongs, nap packages, chanting, stretching sessions, love parties (not to be confused with other kinds of love parties), workout jams, isolation tanks, and the like. We’re officially addicted to experience.
I’ve purchased and participated in a lot of these types of experiences and the feeling I almost always walk away with is one of emptiness and a low-level despair. There’s a depressing quality to the whole experience of experience-chasing. These cool, unique, manufactured experiences feel inauthentic and disconnected and I’m left with a deep feeling of meaninglessness and alienation. I’m supposed to feel like I’m participating in the experience, part of what’s happening, but I actually feel like I’m a witness, and specifically, a witness to the end of the world. The experience itself feels isolated and disconnected and that’s exactly how I feel, no matter how loud the music’s pumping or yummy the snacks taste. So too, I walk away with an awareness of relentless chasing, of getting caught yet again searching for something outside myself to make my life complete. I’m left with a deep sense of the tragedy of the human condition. The emotional residue from these “amazing” experiences is a sense of disappointment, not just for the event, but in myself—that I bit the hook yet again, buying into the dream, the illusion, that my well-being or even happiness could be found in yet another unique experience, which like everything of this sort, will disappear even quicker than the pop-up shop it’s housed in.
We’ve turned experience itself into a product. No longer “in” life or part of the stream of life, we consume our experiences like we would any other object. As a result, we’re cut off, alienated from our direct experience, like fish trapped inside a baggie floating in the ocean—eternally thirsty. We crave the flow experience—full immersion in an activity, with no separation from experience, no separate “I” who’s living it. And yet, the more we crave immersion, the real experience of living, the more we’re compelled to create and consume these “amazing” representations of life, which only intensify our alienation from life.
So too, social media has convinced us that we’re supposed to be living a spectacular life without interruption. “Amazing” should be the norm. Extraordinary should be our ordinary. Why shouldn’t it? Everyone else seems to be living an “amazing” life. We’re inundated with photos of those hanging off catamarans in Ibiza, clinking champagne glasses in Bali, dining on lobster at the coolest rooftop bar ever created, zip lining through a rain forest canopy, or just floating in the infinity pool of a lifetime. Why not? It’s up to us to go and get it.
That said, we’re constantly searching for that fabulous experience that will make our life fabulous, and perhaps most importantly, make us fabulous. We’re always trying to keep up with the competition, to not end up the loser in the virtual war of comparison. There’s enormous pressure, all the time, to be doing something uber interesting, different, that no one else has ever done; we’re in search of that great experience that makes it sound like we’re someone who really “has” a life.
The effect of all these “amazing” experiences on us, paradoxically, is to drain the “amazingness” out of our lives. If we’re not experiencing something unique and extraordinary, we feel our lives to be boring, empty, and even meaningless. And yet, so often when we consume these manufactured experiences, we’re left back where we started: bored, empty and without a sense of meaning. Our pursuit of fun and the never-before experienced causes us to stop noticing and appreciating the mundane and routine, which is most of life. We’re putting all our eggs in the “amazing” experience basket and turning away, ignoring the vast majority of what makes up a life.
In the endless search to create aliveness, we deaden our appreciation for our inherent aliveness, the profundity of just being. Here, no matter where we are, disappears in our relentless quest for the next “amazing” there.
The more we chase experiences, the more convinced we become that meaning lies outside of us, in the next experience, the next hashtag. And, if we could just find the right foam-pit/champagne-bubble/zip-line/haiku combination, we’d be okay. There would be a place we want to be, a place where we can finally be satisfied.
Furthermore, these one-off experiences are not connected to us, not integrated into our lives. They don’t arise organically out of who we are. And perhaps more importantly even, we haven’t put any time or effort into creating them. We are just the disconnected consumers, ready with our Smartphones to record the sparkly emptiness. Real enjoyment happens, most often, when the experience is connected to us in some way and we have some skin in the game. While interesting in the moment, sometimes, the taste we’re left with is of our own craving and failure to create connection and meaning. But because the message is so strong that we can find what we need outside ourselves, the more we fail, the more desperately we search.
It’s important to ask ourselves what we’re looking for, really looking for, when we chase after experiences. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing interesting and fun things, being entertained or even distracted, but we seek experiences, often, with deeper ulterior motives, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious. We chase unique and amazing experiences to complete us, create an interesting life, believe or prove that we are somebody, satisfy our longing for meaning, and many other reasons. All experiences are impermanent; they will end, and as such, cannot be fully satisfying.
We’re confusing new experiences with life, believing that life is something we have to go out and find, schedule, buy, and usually, post. We’ve forgotten that life is already happening with or without our effort; it’s already here, and the fact that this moment is happening is already “amazing.” We want to remember this and pay attention to what’s here in between the bubble pools and escape rooms. In truth, experience is happening without our needing to do or buy anything.
Where are your feet right now? Can you turn your attention here? What’s happening here? What’s to be learned from here? And maybe even, what’s already amazing about here?