One of the joys of freelancing is the freedom it gives you to travel.
I recently have been lucky enough to leave on an adventure that took me around South East and Southern Asia. It has led me to think a lot about the life experiences encountered on adventures such as these; battling the hectic hustle and bustle of the Khao San Road or learning a brand new life skill such as Scuba Diving and how they can add real value to your work life. Some may huff a little at this and say that this is how I justify disappearing off to some exotic location for 3 months at a time, but do read on. I may have a point.
For most of us money is hard to come by, we slave away for it and when we get it we spend it on things we think we want. But in reality the pleasure we feel upon that purchase is short lived.
I read an article recently that reinforced the science behind my new found opinion that this hard earned money is best spent on experiences rather than ‘things’. Don’t get me wrong, I am as guilty of buying, buying, buying as the rest of us. Even more so maybe. As I write this I’m sitting in my rather expensive studio flat in North London, sitting on plush furniture I’ve bought myself and surrounded by gadgets and beautiful objects I was proud to buy and that at the time made me extremely happy. So it is important to say this is not me lecturing anyone, I don’t want to come across holier-than-thou because I’m probably a lot worse than most. But it’s only on my return from the rather intense paradise that is South East Asia and my new found obsession with Scuba Diving that I’m seeing all of this ‘stuff’ as just clutter. Or perhaps that’s because I have been living out of a bag for 3 months!
They say ‘money buys happiness’. I have never felt happier than the moment I finally mastered perfect buoyancy and found myself gliding along with two green turtles and an array of marine life off the coast of Bali. So perhaps what they say is true, just not in the way I thought.
There is, of course, an argument against all of this… these experiences fade as a lot of memories tend to do. And ironically these objects we collect remain, gather dust they might, but they remain. You can pick them up, put them down, use, watch, listen, wear, whatever. The more cynical of us may say these once-in-a-lifetime experiences ALSO only pleasure us for a short time – we forget. But now in this digital revolution we can capture and record everything on our GoPros and iPhones. So much so it gets a little out of control!
I remember vividly my visit to the Louvre in Paris a few years ago and making my way to see the Mona Lisa. I eventually managed to lay eyes on Da Vinci’s most famous masterpiece… through about 46 iPhone screens. This evolution in technology can be seen as a blessing, we are able to digitally eternalise these moments on our many, many devices. And I do this, I take pictures of literally EVERYTHING. I like to think these images could act as a digital trigger, something that will evoke a memory similar to the way a song or smell did when we had less distractions. Perhaps it’s not exactly the same but as long as we ensure we soak up the experience, the emotions we feel at the time, why not snap, snap, snap away? Just make sure you look with your eyes and not just through the lens.
Despite the memories or your experiences fading, (or at least losing a little of their vibrancy even if they are saved on your iCloud), they do teach you something about yourself. These life experiences test you, challenge you, break you. But maybe remake you and engraine something within this ‘new you’.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods, you can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
Says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. Graphic designers are typically guilty of this, (or most graphic designers I should say, let’s not generalise). We tend to have materialistic jobs, we work with brands and there’s a lot of selling involved. We can also earn good money. And after a pay rise it’s especially hard to resist the urge to leave behind the cheap Primarni shoes for a pair of Acne boots and not order the house Merlot when you could have the Malbec.
As humans we always focus on the negative. It’s human nature. Bloody annoying as it is, it’s true. An insult stays with you a lot longer than a compliment does. But even those awful experiences you have when travelling; being robbed by dodgy travel companies (or as my good friend Dan calls it being ‘Surat Thanied’), that near death experience on a very small and rickety boat one stormy morning in Koh Rong, or the general panic you get when arriving lost and alone in a completely foreign land, they still eventually turn into exciting stories and moments of hilarity to recall to yourself and to friends. Especially if you were there sharing it with someone. These moments build you, they teach you to cope with life. A new flash car may get you to work in style and impress a few of your shallower mates, those new 501s may make you feel great before the denim fades, but they won’t help you the next time you are stuck in Tokyo alone with no one around you that speaks English. Or back to my initial point, at an important interview or on your first day at a new job.
I’m not saying don’t buy things, I certainly will continue to do so. And we work hard to earn money to allow us to do this. All I am saying is rather than buying those new Nikes in two colours, just get the one colour (you don’t need pink AND blue!), put some money aside and get into the countryside. Try to travel, even if it is just getting into central London on Saturday and having a walk down the Thames Pathway or through Regent’s Park. Learn to play an instrument, go to a seminar, a gig, an exhibition, the theatre, see what they are chatting about at Speakers’ Corner that weekend.
Not only will you feel better about yourself, you will probably be a more interesting person to talk to as well.