Seeking Experiences Where the Product is a Better Self

Transformation through experience

In a 2014 report the Boston Consulting Group says that nearly $1 trillion of the $1.8 trillion spent on “luxuries” in 2013 was spent on experiences — 55 percent. “When we buy experiences, those purchases make us happier than when we buy things,” says Joseph Pine, the co-author of The Experience Economy. “Some large part of that trillion is luxury transformations—people looking to recharge, revitalize or to improve well-being in some way.”

But if the swelling market for wellness-related activities —festivals, retreats, and urban studios— that provide a mixture of art, entertainment, and inspiration indicates a deeper yearning for human connection, the evidence points to how this connection we are seeking is also with our self. 

It's possible that after years of touting the benefits of following, liking, and linking in social networks, many are experiencing social media fatigue. Further, while all the activity may have provided new ideas and provided serendipitous moments, we still live very much in the real world. Where we still face critical situations and life changing events as alone experiences.

The yearning for personal transformation takes many forms. Among them is the desire for simplicity, which explains the popularity of Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing 

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has been researching how the way we see others drives the value of our self-perception. We use a combination of warmth and competence to decide who to admire and who to pity, and the research found that the link to competence is often based on physical dominance.

It was after her unguarded talk on how body language affects how others see us and how we see ourselves Cuddy started receiving hundreds of comments from people who had seen it. In the talk Cuddy had shared her struggles with impostor syndrome and how she had figured out how to become more confident.

We pay attention to the body language of others, but our self-awareness is not so fine tuned that we would notice our own posture. Because if we did, we would observe that when we feel victorious and powerful, we use expansive gestures, just like other primates. While we tend to close up to protect ourselves when we feel powerless — humans and animals alike.

The result of expanded research and the feedback Cuddy received is Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. “Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself —your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities,” she says:

All of these people —the vast majority of whom are not scientists— have forced me to look at my own research in a new way: they simultaneously take me away from the science and bring me closer to it. Hearing their stories, I became obliged to think about how social science findings actually play out in the real world.

I started caring about doing research that changes lives in a positive way. But I also started coming up with basic questions that may have never occurred to me if I'd stayed inside the lab and steeped myself in the literature.

There is a big difference between staying behind the glass when we conduct research, and basing our findings on what suits mostly the business, and coming out to see for ourselves how things actually work in the world. Are we making lives better through experiences?

Study after study finds that is what we are looking for in leaders, brands, businesses, and some of our best interactions — actual conversations. According to Dr. Constance Goodwin, “something that generates or engenders transformation or a transformative atmosphere is a conversation.”

Seeking a better self

Most of us have a personal story of when we felt we were not fully ourselves. Maybe it happened while auditioning for a role, or going on a date, pitching an idea, after a job interview, speaking up during a meeting or in front of a group. Maybe we fell short of our ambitions and ideas during an argument. How did we get there? Amy Cuddy says:

We probably were worrying what others would think of us, but believing we already knew what they thought; feeling powerless, and also consenting to that feeling; clinging to the outcome and attributing far too much importance to it instead of focusing on the process.

These worries coalesce into a toxic cocktail of self-defeat. That's how we got there.

When we most need to be present to ourselves, to be mindful of our own abilities and resourcefulness, we seem to be everywhere but in the moment.

The reason why we seek transformational experiences is that we want to be a more energized, confident self. For that, we need to relearn how to learn to find peace with being who we are. It starts with our thinking —“cogito ergo sum,” says René Descartes. Knee-deep in the tactics of keeping up with a million obligations and no time, learning how to think for ourselves has become the luxury of our age.