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The Experiences of a Lifetime

A few weeks ago, while helping choose premiums to be given away during daily drawings for one of our clients, I found myself going through a mental accounting of my own favorite possessions and wondering what it was about each that elevated it to “favorite” status.

 

High on my list was my DJI Mavic Pro Quadcopter Drone, in addition to being a heck of a lot of fun to fly, it also holds a lot of sentimental value. You see, it was the reward I gave myself after landing my position here at 360 Live Media. The thing I like most about it is, thanks to its sophisticated GPS and internal navigation system, I can fly far beyond the line of sight, explore inaccessible and remote locations, and then simply press “return home,’ and it returns autonomously to within a couple of inches of where I launched it.

 

Second would have to be a six-inch Iron Age-era harpoon-tip I stumbled upon while beachcombing in Washington State. The artifact is cool in its own right, but it’s the story of how I found it that makes it really special. Someone had just told me that they had once found an arrowhead on the beach, so I should keep my eye out. Armed with this advice, I literally walked down to the beach, looked down at my feet and there it was—the very first thing I saw.

 

Topping off my list of favorites is a High Lama collar necklace I found in an outdoor market in Nepal. The necklace itself looks like something straight from the props department in an Indiana Jones movie. It has about a dozen interlocking polygon-shaped plates made from hammered  silver. Each plate containing ornate silver weaving surrounding turquoise stones arranged in the form of a High Lama (holy figure, not Andean pack animal). Hanging from its center is a medallion, also with intricate silver weaving surrounding the most elaborate of all the Lamas, this one, in addition to the turquoise body, sporting a crown made of bright red mountain coral. Perhaps just as rewarding as the find itself, was the price. The Nepali vendor let me have it for just $35 U.S., which coincidentally was also the price tag for a silver ingot-encrusted High Lama’s skull (an actual human skull covered in silver ornaments); however, the skull’s high “eww!” factor elicited by my wife, rendered it unobtainable, despite the low-price tag.

 

While compiling my list of personal favorites, ironically, and somewhat surprisingly, big-ticket items, like my home, car, computer and iPad—things that, at the time of purchase, I would’ve anticipated would’ve been high on my list, didn’t even rate “runner-up” status.

 

It dawned on me that my most valued possessions, without exception, were either the product of a memorable experience or, in the case of the drone, provided one.

 

My most valuable possessions weren’t also my most valued—what gives?

 

Turns out, there’s a scientific explanation as to why the appeal of material possessions like those big-ticket items listed above fades over time. You see, consumers often buy these things under the misplaced belief that doing so will provide lasting happiness, because the possessions endure for as long as you own them, as opposed to experiences that are fleeting.

 

And while that may be true, research has found the feelings of contentment associated with material possessions often diminish over time, due in no small part to the fact once we attain a possession that provides some degree of status—our entire frame of reference shifts, so that  it’ll require something even greater to provide the same amount of satisfaction.

 

Psychologists call this the “hedonic treadmill,” where, regardless of life’s peaks and valleys, we tend to always return to a “set-point” of general happiness. This suggests that as our wealth and possessions increase, so too does our aspirations and expectations, until our happiness plateaus at the very level of contentment we started with.

 

Experiences, on the other hand, tend to sweeten over time. Possessions wrought from them tend to be viewed more as mementos, reminding us of the fond memories associated with their acquisition, rather than simply as possessions.

 

And while we might like to think it’s the designer label we wear or the type of car we drive that sets us apart, it’s our experiences that truly define who we are as individuals and brings us together as a community. Our experiences are uniquely our own. They’re what define our character. Each new one, no matter how small, adds, a new wrinkle to the tapestry that is us.

 

So, next time you are looking for a giveaway for your event or simply trying to decide between the next best thing or a big adventure, remember, that experience is not only the best teacher, it’s also its own reward.