As we get older, we value experiences more than things. Experiences can never be taken away from you, they can’t get lost, they don’t depreciate in value. Some experiences can be life changing: meeting your mate, finally understanding an artist’s work, seeing how people live in other countries first-hand. Such events change your reality, your perspective, how you interpret the world.
Many experiences involve social interaction, although there are many exceptions, such as reading a book. But arguably, that is also a social interaction since you see the world through the author’s eyes or through his characters’ eyes, increasing your empathy and experience. We can’t be multiple people, but we can see through multiple people’s eyes via the arts.
Let me be clear: by experiences, I mean real world, physical object, real people experiences, not technologically mediated experiences. According to bakadesuyo.com, “When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better. What about when they just texted? Their bodies responded the same as if they had no support at all.” I believe experiencing physical reality in large doses is critical to our well being.
We each choose our preferred methods of experiencing physical reality: fishing, playing touch football, ballroom dancing, weaving, going to museums, or traveling, for example. It’s good to experiment a bit and see which ones make you feel the best. A recent article in The New York Times said that most of us limit our choices excessively by not daring to try something new. For example, I have never been in a particular pizza parlor in town. I’m not a great fan of pizza, but I did have mind blowing pizza in Portland, Maine. How do I know that this place around the corner doesn’t have equally great pizza? I don’t, because I haven’t tried it. The fear of disappointment often overcomes people’s impulse to experiment.
One time I did overcome that fear. I had been toying with the idea of learning to swing dance for years. My fear of trying something and perhaps not liking it or failing, or even perhaps my fear of enjoyment, or a feeling that I didn’t deserve it, which I think many of us have, prevented me from acting on this idea. When I turned 46, the reality came home to me that I could no longer deny that I was middle aged. I couldn’t fathom that idea, it made no sense. It did not compute, as Spock always said. I felt like time was running out.
I went that summer to the New York City Ballet as I liked to do and went out onto the balcony at intermission. There as usual out on the piazza was a dance floor crowded with dancers. This time the music was swing, which I had always liked. After the ballet, I asked a guard what one had to do to be able to go onto the dance floor. He said, “Pay twelve dollars.” I was flabbergasted – I thought this was a secret privileged society that got to go out on that dance floor. So next time there was a swing dance there, I went; a teacher taught the Charleston; he had flyers out; I took one and signed up for the introductory lesson, and that was that. I was now a swing dance addict. It was the 2nd best thing I ever did, after my 5-month, 5-country bicycle camping tour of Europe my ex and I did when I was 22. (Hi, Geoff!). I am still dancing 12 years later, though not as often. But I have reached a certain level of proficiency which makes dancing a delight I can re-ignite whenever I feel like it.
Even Suze Orman’s motto about priorities is “People, money, things.” Notice that “things” are the last priority. So for this New Year, I encourage you to think about how you can add more experiences to your lives to enrich them. Of course, I think an indelible experience would be to take one of my small-group, immersive, interactive tours. That’s why I created them. But you could start with baby steps to exercise your choice muscle to choose new experiences, such as doing something you’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to. And to allow yourself to have fun. You deserve to!
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