"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover." - Mark Twain
It's everywhere in the media
The Lamborghinis on Wall Street, the Louis Vuitton bags that celebrities wear, the mansions that "successful" people live in. The list goes on.
We've fooled ourselves into believing that the sole recognition -- no, definition -- of success & happiness comes from the type of cars we own or the number of zeros in our bank account. We've put the notion of material success on a pedestal and convinced those around us to adopt the same beliefs.
In a society that idolizes the pursuit of happiness, carrying out a life where one's destination is to find joy through material goods is not only ineffective, but it's a never-ending journey.
The key to happiness is not spending our time & money acquiring goods.
The key to happiness is spending our time & money experiencing life.
MasterCard had it right.
It's the priceless experiences in life that makes us happy at the end of day.
Experience defines us
Back in December, I went on a ten-day silent meditation trip in Hawaii.
It was the most intense, yet enlightening experiences that I've been through, and I've never felt a stronger reciprocation between my mind & body. More importantly, it led to a life-changing decision to leave the company I helped found in the past year, in order to fulfill my dreams of moving to New York City.
Every experience brings with it a mistake or triumph, and often a realization about who we are as individuals. Experience helps us clarify how we think, who we want to surround ourselves with and ultimately an understanding of what makes us happy in life.
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln
We live in a society where tangible things appear more valuable because we can feel, hold and touch the materials we purchase. Above all, it's because tangible things are tied with currency that places a price of its value in the marketplace.
There's no way to physically feel the experience of diving off a cliff on a Sunday afternoon with our closest friends. Nor can we "sell" the experience of our first fight with our partners. It's the same reason why we can't put a price value on a human being.
"If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires." -Abigail Van Buren
We are the accumulation of everything we've ever seen, heard, smelled, tasted and felt. It's experience that teaches us not to take that 9-5 cubicle job again, and it's experience that will lead to that next big breakthrough idea for our businesses.
In other words, experiences come with life lessons.
Materials come with nothing but a bill.
Experience stays with us
When we think back to our fondest memories, what are they?
For me, it's not the gifts I received for Christmas or my birthday. It's the context surrounding the gifts -- the people at my birthday party, the smell of the hot chocolate on Christmas morning. It's the first time I learned how to ride a bike with my brother, and the time I went on my first (awful) date. This is what puts a smile to my face to this day.
Here's the main caveat to investing in materials -- they have expiration dates.
The moment you purchase a material, not only does its monetary value drop in the marketplace, our perception of its value quickly fades over time.
Experience can be relived. Experience has emotional longevity. It can be improved in our minds as we continue to grow and progress in life. It stays with us and they are lessons we can use everyday for as long as we live.
A Cornell survey found that 83 percent of participants reported mentally revisiting their experiential purchases more often than their material purchases.
This means that experiences bring us happiness not just when we're having the experience, but also when we simply think about them.
Here are three tips to start living a life of experiences.
Living a life of experiences
1. Change your budget priorities.
If we want to start living a life of experiences, we need to prioritize our financial budgets to accommodate the adventures we'll undertake.
It's as simple as saving up for a flat-screen TV vs. a trip to South America.
Figure out what you actually need in your life, and what will truly serve you in the long-term. The truth is, we need very few materials to enjoy and live our lives.
Learn to be prudent when purchasing materials, because salvaging those few extra nickels could lead to the experience that could change your life.
2. Say "yes" more.
Growing up, we were taught to make decisions with calculated risk assessments by carefully thinking things through. If we want to start fulfilling more experiences in life -- we need to unlearn these principles.
The best adventures arise from moments when we least expect them.
Filling our mind with "what ifs" is only going to keep us on our couches watching other people live their lives. Before we know it, our "what if" will turn into "should have."
Start saying "yes."
Learn to be present in the moment. When the next opportunity for experience appears, ask yourself this simple question.
Will I regret not taking this opportunity? Tomorrow, next week, or even next year?
If the answer is yes -- or even maybe -- your immediate response should also be yes.
The future will always be uncertain. That's never going to change. But you can control how you shape it by thinking less and taking action.
3. Start with the small (and cheap) adventures.
Are you the type of person that watches the same movies over and over again, takes the same walking route to the office, and eats at the same restaurants?
You need to break out of your regular routine.
Opening our mind up to new experiences needs to start with the small decisions and interactions we have in our daily lives. Instead of going to that same Italian restaurant near your office because you know it's a safe decision, go somewhere new.
The most fulfilling experiences don't have to cost a lot of money. Often times, it's right next door. We just need to know where to knock.
We've heard the negative stigma that comes with using daily deal sites as a small business owner. But as a consumer who is seeking cheap, exciting and novel experiences -- this is where you want to live.
I've personally experimented everything from salsa dance lessons ($15 -- 10 lessons), to three-course Medieval Times dinners ($39), to flight lessons ($88) through daily deal sites. It's the cheapest way to experience the most incredible adventures with friends or even yourself.
Start taking the small risks in life. You'll be surprised how far it takes you.
If there's anything to take away from this article -- take away this.
We are all going to die one day, whether you choose to accept it or not. At the end of our lives, we're going to ask the same questions.
Did I live?
Do I have regrets?
Did I experience everything I wanted to in life?
Ask yourself if you want your existence to be defined by the type of car you owned or the adventures and freedom you led in life.
Invest in something that will bring you lessons rather than a bill. Become minimal in assets and rich in experience.
Because experience will win -- every single time.
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Follow Sean Kim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/heyseankim