Living Radically Principle: Putting Experiences Above Materialism

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Bear with me on this one. I posted the video above because it was a very special moment in my life, an experience I’ve never had before and likely will never have again. For a few hours I was watching, listening and singing to one of the greatest musicians of our time and probably of all time. Sure this sounds like hyperbole, and it might be, but for me it was almost as if I was in the presence of Mozart or Beethoven as they were conducting some of their masterpieces. Where am I going with this? It’s the perfect illustration of a principle at Living Radically:

Value the experiences you’re afforded far higher than replaceable and expendable material possessions.

This is a maxim we live by and think about as we’re planning everything from our trips abroad to our plans for the weekend. There are far more interesting and enriching experiences to be had on this earth than there are items to be bought. This is hardly a revolutionary idea, but it’s one that is worth reminding ourselves about frequently. In a society constantly producing magical new gadgets, fashionable shoes, and other amazing widgets, the transient properties of material objects have to be highlighted. There will always be a new iPhone out next year (much to my bank account’s chagrin), but there will only ever be one Paul McCartney, and unfortunately for us all, our paths will cross once only if we are beyond lucky.

We are presented with choices between experiences and objects more often than we would think. When you’re in some remote village for example, it may be easier to remember that place by buying a souvenir to put on your dresser at home. It’s our firm belief however that one’s life would be far more enriched had you instead eaten at a local restaurant and talked with some of the local people, or rented an apartment in a non-touristy part of town and actually lived in that village for a period of time. Certainly these things aren’t mutually exclusive, but too often people visit a place and purchase a few items from the souvenir stalls and call it a day.

Another way I look at my choices, particularly when financial or time reasons limit my actions to either an experience or a material object, is running the “50 year test.” I look at my choices and say will I remember either of these two things 50 years from now? Let’s use my real life example above. When looking at tickets for Paul McCartney, or going out to dinner a few times this month at some really nice restaurants in LA, which one will I be more likely to remember in 50 years? The answer to me is clear – go with the concert.

“But experiences are usually way more expensive than that souvenir I want to bring home,” you say. Quite right in terms of cost to you up front, but I look at it another way. Instead of looking at the plain cost of that flight over the Andes mountain vs. the hand sewn sweater in the artisan market, I look instead at the cost divided by the utilization I’ll get out of each item. My personal tastes means that the enjoyment I get out of the actual flight, plus all the memories I’ll take with me, plus the stories I can tell friends and families about the experience make the cost much more palatable than that hand sewn sweater. It may not be the same calculation for you, but the point is just because something may be 10 times more expensive on the surface, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more expensive when amortized across a lifetime of happiness derived from one event.

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