Are you experienced?

This is a question that famed artist Jimmy Hendrix asked many years ago. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t referring to drugs but asking whether you’ve attained peace with yourself.

You’ve likely heard various mantras on the importance of experiences. “Experience is the child of thought, and thought is the child of action.” said former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” wrote Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. Our cultures are full of references to the power of experiences with terms like ‘richer for the experience’ entering everyday language.

Yet our consumerist world seems to operate against the value of experiences and in favour of how much stuff we can accumulate. In our material age, buying things seems to act as a proxy for experiences. The problem is “Nothing can substitute experience.”

If you worry which products to possess, you’ll be possessed by products all the while overlooking the fact that we’re the product of our experiences.

What makes a lifestyle focused on experiences over physical goods so desirable?

Reasons for experiences

Happiness ≠ Number of things you own

Unless you’re studying mathematics, this will probably be the most important equation you see all year.

Contrary to what the modern world would have you believe, increasing the amount of stuff you have doesn’t correlate with feeling happier.

We live in the most consumerist period there has ever been. Nations base definitions of ‘success’ around how much stuff is created. Advertising bombards our senses manufacturing deficiencies which (surprise, surprise) can be ‘solved’ by purchasing particular products. Depleting paychecks to zero on things instead of saving is now the attitudinal norm and not the exception. Who wants to save when there’s so much stuff available that provides instant gratification?

The clue is in the words ‘instant gratification’. Happiness is not equivalent to short-term satisfaction. Believing so is what’s known as the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’—pursuing one pleasure after another thinking that the next one will get you to the state of happiness ever out-of-reach.

For many, contemporary life is one big hedonic treadmill of widgets. That 16th pair of shoes not quite satiating your desires? No worries, pair number 17 will surely do the trick. What do you mean you’re out of almond milk? How do you expect me to get by this morning without my custom frappuccino? I know the last iPhone only came out a year and a half ago but trust me it’s now pathetic, I can’t go without the new one…

Real happiness is found in the here and now, not in some past buy or future purchase. It’s found in complete engagement with what we undertake, not outsourced to some device.

Experiences provide this.

They draw our attention to the point in time that matters most: now.

They involve our faculties of mind to what we go through without need for a proxy.

Of course, we need to ensure our lives are not merely shifts from short-term products to short-term experiences. It’s possible to lead a life on an experiential hedonic treadmill chasing one short-term experience after another. It’s important to include deeper and long-term experiences as part of our lifestyles too.

But a life leaning towards experiences and away from physical goods is an upgrade. An upgrade on the memories you create and the ongoing narrative you compose.

Experiences Happiness

Experiences make your stories and memories

In his seminal work ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, psychologist Daniel Kahneman states we have two selves: the experiencing self which focuses on the present and the remembering self which focuses on the past and future via anticipated memory making.

Using a series of thought experiments, he concludes that the self of most significance is the remembering self. He claims in a world without the remembering self, we’d have no recollection of what we’d experience making all moments fleeting. But in a world without the experiencing self, we may not engage with the present moment yet we’d have a rich store of memories to look back on.

Of course such a world with only one or the other state doesn’t exist. The reason it doesn’t exist is because it’s our experiences which encode our memories in the first place.

We remember that which is significant in our lives, good or bad, positive or negative. For something to be worthy of recollection let alone storytelling, it has to carry semantic weight at the time of experience.

When we use the term ‘experience’, we don’t use it to refer to everyday life through the realm of our senses, we use it to label standout moments in our lives that are distinct from the mundane. Brushing our teeth or folding our clothes are experienced by the experiencing self but don’t go down as experiences for this reason.

Therefore a life of experiences is a life of significance. Enhancing your experiencing self with meaningful moments is a win-win play—you supercharge your present and sculpt a life narrative for your remembering self. 

Physical goods have less of a role in memory formation than people might think. The memories with the most salience in our minds tend to be standout experiences and we pay little attention to the physical goods we used in our memories.

Life isn’t a zero-sum game towards consumption but it sure pays to be experience-oriented.

Experiences Stories

Lifestyle design is experience-oriented

Lifestyle design entered our vocabularies this millennium with the release of books, media and content focused on digital nomadism and alternative lifestyles through new technologies.

Despite this, there is still a contingent on the internet that believes ‘lifestyle design’ is about home architecture, interior design and the myriad things we can collect in our residencies to make a ‘lifestyle’.

The reason we get into lifestyle design in the first place is not due to products, gadgets or consumables but to enhance our day-to-day lived moments and undertakings. We want to set ourselves up for meaningful engagement with the world and we do so by thinking about how to orient our lives for the best experiences with ourselves and with others.

The ‘design’ aspect of lifestyle design may involve some prior thought but more important than any single blueprint or plan is getting out there and undergoing an experience.

Let’s look at some practical ways to lead an experience-oriented life.

Practical tips for an experience-oriented life

Airbnb Experiences

With the word ‘experiences’ in the title, it should come as no surprise that this platform is experience-oriented.

Airbnb Experiences offers activities, events, tours and more to people wanting a local experience. The idea is that if hosts can offer their rooms on the platform, they may have unique experiences they can offer too. The peer-to-peer ethos that is the lifeblood of the Airbnb accommodation platform also powers the experiences side. You get to experience something a local would do and obtain unique insights into their culture or way of life.

The range of activities on offer is second-to-none and you don’t have to be staying in Airbnb accommodation to take part in an experience. Airbnb Experiences have potential regardless of whether you’re a traveller, expat or local.

There are other platforms that offer different experiences too ranging from aggregator platforms like Airbnb to sites focusing on specialist niches of experiences. Whichever you use, make sure you’re signing up to a participatory activity and not just the collection and use of some object.

On journeys abroad, many people report their participation in an activity or event with others as the most valuable part of their trip. The impact sharing a unique experience with others has can’t be matched by buying more goods. An experiential souvenir is better than a physical one.

Vagabond with an adventurer’s mindset

As useful as platforms like Airbnb Experiences are, experiences are not confined to purchases handpicked off a shelf, undertaken, then disposed of when we see fit. Meaningful experiences don’t come with giant neon arrows overhead hinting at where they are. If they did, companies like Airbnb would be the wealthiest and life would be as simple as buying as many as you can.

The most fulfilling experiences can’t be bought. Often the deepest experiences occur when we least expect them, when we’re plunged into a personal journey and have to demonstrate resourcefulness to come through.

Choosing to vagabond with an open-mind often results in experiential encounters because the act of vagabonding is itself an experience. When vagabonding, you’re not setting yourself up with expectations for how to experience the world, you’re allowing adventure to find you.

The novelty of the adventure is what charges the experience with significance. If you could know exactly how your mind and body would engage with an activity beforehand, the experience wouldn’t be worth undertaking.

I wrote about the power of vagabonding as an intrepid traveller but the truth is, vagabonding is a way of being that you can adopt wherever you are including in your hometown. Explore fresh paths, get off the beaten-track, break patterns of behaviour and do something new. Meaningful experiences come to those who are mentally ready for them.

Experiences Vagabond

Love people, use things (not the other way around)

So many of the most profound moments we experience in life are shared or facilitated by other people.

It’s said that when we look back on life in old age, we remember the times spent with others and our most significant relationships. We care little if at all for stuff accumulated over time.

Learn to connect with others. Nurture the relationships you have of all kinds. This is the single most important skill you can ever acquire in life.

As professor and author Scott Galloway notes: “Develop the skills to begin opening and establishing relationships. Nothing wonderful is going to happen to you unless you take an uncomfortable risk. So get good at taking them. Get good at sending blind emails to LinkedIn contacts to ask them for coffee to see if they’ll talk to you about that industry. Reach out to people, tell them you admire them. Try and find things where you’re building something in the agency of others.”

Good relationships whether long or short, platonic or romantic, brand new or ever-enduring are paradigmatic examples of human beings at their evolutionary best. Our status as an apex species is due to our social nous—our ability to befriend, coordinate and work with others to achieve outcomes and aims that are mutually beneficial. This is the secret sauce to human success.

When we nurture relationships with others, we’re increasing the likelihood that we’ll take part in profound experiences because it’s others that facilitate experiences not inanimate things.

Time spent with others who are important to us is always meaningful. Prioritise this dimension in your life—don’t compromise it through meaningless stuff.

Experiences Love People


Nothing can substitute experience. This includes the mountains of stuff that consumerism tells us we should surround ourselves with everyday. Treat yourself as a product of experiences and not a product for sale. Your time is precious and is best spent nurturing experiences rather than things.

Our happiness and wellbeing are not equivalent to what we own. Avoid the hedonic treadmill of pursuing short-term pleasure after short-term pleasure through physical goods. The gratification they provide is fleeting. Real happiness comes from how we engage ourselves in our lives.

Experiences encode our memories. A life of experiences is one of significance both in the present moment and looking back. Your life story is only compelling if you have a range of experiences to back it up.

Lifestyle design is about enhancing your day-to-day lived experience, not perfecting your home decor. Take action towards an experience-oriented life and don’t wait for the perfect plan or time.

There are practical tips we can use to lead an experience-oriented life. Platforms offering participation in unique activities and events are gateways to experiential souvenirs. Choosing to vagabond with an open-mind is always an experience and can lead to interesting subsets of experiences. Love people and not things—you’ll always be rewarded for investments in relationships new or existing.

You don’t need to be abroad to lead an experience-oriented life but few things can match the experiential impact time abroad gives.

“All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson