Would you take an elevator up the Himalayas?


We may spend most of our waking hours
advancing our own interests,
but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest and simply become a part of a whole.
It’s not just a capacity; it’s the portal
to many of life’s most cherished experiences.

Jonathon Haidt

We all love experiences. Experiences have become something we plan and purchase rather than what we encounter in our regular lives. Our “cherished” experiences have been commodified. We think that buying experiences, filling our life shopping cart, some call it a bucket list, with amazing excitement, awe and wonder, we will be happy.

Nothing is more symptomatic of our emptiness, our hollowness, our unfulfilled quest to live in the present than the conspicuous consumption of experiences, which can be confused with “peak experiences.”

Abraham Maslow, a prominent psychologist and one of the founders of humanistic psychology, is best  known for his theory of self-actualization, which emphasizes the importance of achieving one’s potential. As part of his research, Maslow conducted extensive studies on what he called “peak experiences.” These experiences were described as rare, intense moments of happiness and fulfillment that are characterized by a sense of unity, transcendence, and a feeling of being fully alive. He believed that these experiences had the potential to bring about profound changes in a person’s life, leading to greater creativity, enhanced emotional well-being, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life.

We are all chasing the new experience, the new high, to help us displace the predictability of our unexamined lives.

Neophilia: Is a personality type that pursues new things, novelties including novel experiences.

We are all neophiliacs! Just when you thought you were aware of all your ailments. 😊

The focus on new stimulation to counter boredom leads to the incessant pursuit of doses of pleasurable temporary states of consciousness.

We will do almost anything to avoid reality.

Neophilia is good and bad. Curiosity is positive. When we become compulsive it leads to gluttonous behavior that counters all of the good and can turn into regret or worse. A strong drive toward overindulgence and conspicuous consumption can lead to a dependence that becomes addictive.

Research on neophilia shows that people pursuing peak experiences are more prone to substance abuse including alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

Even the craze over psychedelics borders on marketing meaningful moment materialism by accelerating peak experiences.

I love the story about Abraham Maslow and Timothy Leary, a leading psychologist and advocate for LSD and other psychedelics in the 60s. They were contemporaries and colleagues. Maslow was quite skeptical about using drugs to jump to self-actualization. He allegedly asked Leary, ”Would you take an elevator up the Himalayas?” He supposedly said no. But we have seen the ways thousands of privileged people are climbing Everest today, it is tantamount to a human elevator! Literally buying a “peak” experience 😉

When I listen to people who are taking their seventh adventure vacation in a year. Or the 150 day cruises that go around the world. I wonder what people are trying to escape.

I have always fought the urge to make the “extraordinary” make up for the failure of the ordinary. Being a good father or a good husband could be improved by buying experiences to perhaps assuage my guilt for what I should have done or been.

Neophilia taken to the extreme is escapism. Novelty can be the numbing agent to real life.

Overdose on dopamine makes us dopes.

It is our striving and our struggle to be happier that becomes part of our suffering. Our attempt to escape the emptiness and loneliness of life through peak experiences. True contentment and a sense of being true to ourselves, comes with the cessation of this struggle. And when escapism becomes part of our striving, then escapism becomes a prison.

When you crave experiences, you always think about the future. Maybe comparing it to something in the past and you skip past the present. The nature of experience is always in the present but the future starts to define your life. Fear and hope become your comrades. You fear you won’t get what you want to experience, and you hope that your experiences will be better than what you experienced previously. And the hedonistic treadmill goes into high gear.

Always wanting more. More is infinite.

But we have misunderstood peak experiences. Maslow saw them as the key to opening up insights into one’s potential, one’s full potential.

Moments of amusement and ephemeral happiness do not lead to an understanding your potential. Self-serving events driven by status, prestige, and ego are far from understanding our purpose, our connection to others and being in service to something greater than self and our families.

Not saying vacations and rest and relaxation and leaving the din of our congested and stress filled lives is not useful and indeed enjoyable. That special experiences can be enlightening and embroider a good life.

I am saying that once you think vacations and experiences are driving what you think about and do most of the time you enter life avoidance land.

The most thrilling moments in our lives are often balanced on a knife edge between pleasure and pain. Our addiction to positivity and the pursuit of pleasure is actually making us miserable, without some pain, we have no real way to achieve and appreciate the kind of happiness that is true and transcendent. Brock Bastian

The real and amazing experience of life is in the light and the shadows. The highs and the lows. They are so intertwined and linked to one another.

The agony and the ecstasy. The fame and the shame. The rise and the fall. From saint to sinner and back again..

True peak experiences come from this cycle. The ups and the downs.

Greater meaningfulness was related both to a higher frequency of positive events and a higher frequency of negative events, as well as reports of more stress, time spent worrying, and time spent reflecting on struggles and challenges. Scott Barry Kaufman

“Negative events” or “pain” can be the defining moments that open your heart and mind to your potential. From childbirth to death, from highest promotion to firing, from our foibles and our fame, and from our vulnerabilities as well as our victories.

So peak experiences, the ones with great impact, insight and growth, come from both sides of the ledger. We must embrace them. Explore them. And get through them.

For many of us these are the most novel experiences we will ever have.

Not surprisingly an increasing amount of research shows the avoidance of negative thoughts and feelings may over time interfere with the development of our potential, which requires the ability to experience the full range of emotions.

By constantly seeking out special experiences, we may miss out on the richness and beauty of the present moment. We overlook the simple joys of spending time with loved ones, appreciating nature, or pursuing a passion that brings us fulfillment.

Yes, curiosity not driven by status, prestige, ego and even the hint of one-up-personship can be enlightening, educational and euphoric.
But deepening one’s understanding of self, defining purpose in one’s life beyond our selfish pleasures, being in service to something greater than ourselves and our families, will not emerge from escapism, novelty and buying peak experiences.

Experiencing compassion: to deeply see, feel, and understand another is the ultimate peak experience.  

Planning and pursuing experiences can distract us from the ephemeral stimuli or the extraordinary revelations of what life is beckoning us to do and be.

How will the peak experiences of our daily lives, that push us to new heights or plumb the depths of our emotional capacity, make us feel alive, unify us and transcend us to our unexperienced potential?

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