Completeness of Experience

So much of the focus in western culture is on the novelty, intensity, and variety of our experiences.

Where have you traveled? What restaurants have you been to? Have you ever done a full Ironman? Have you ever had this grapefruit-infused IPA? What about the truffle-oil infused Pork Belly? Have you gone zip-lining in Costa Rica? How about bike-packing in Columbia?

Have you done a 100-mile race? How about a 200-mile race?

And of course when the goal or focus is on having the greatest variety of intense experiences, there is always a worry. Did I pick the best dish at this restaurant? Is this job the best job I could possibly have at this moment? Am I doing enough?

I think that’s the source of the ubiquitous “fear of missing out.” The fear that there is a better experience somewhere than the one we are currently having. And this creates a pervasive sense that what we are doing is somehow not quite good enough. And then the feeling that we are not quite good enough generates a desire to perpetually optimize for better experiences.

But the mind that is perpetually optimizing is a mind that is never at rest. The perpetually optimizing mind may struggle to appreciate the present experience, because it is always searching for a better one.

In my 20s and 30s, I was always worried about how to acquire a variety of novel and intense experiences. Now I try to focus more on the completeness of any given experience.

If you are focused on the completeness of your experience, rather than its novelty, intensity, or variety, it doesn’t matter if you are taking out the trash or washing the dishes. It can still be a source of pleasure and peace. But if you are not focused on the completeness of your experience, you could be sipping on a cocktail on a tropical beach and still be deeply dissatisfied or outright miserable (“That private beach over there looks nicer”; “I should have gone to Aruba instead of Jamaica”; “The view here is blocked by those trees”; “This humidity is oppressive”; “I should have ordered that Pina Colada instead of this Bahama Mama”).

This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with good food, travel, or intense experiences. It’s just to say that without a sense of appreciation, the feeling that the present moment is good enough, that all of our experiences may seem incomplete. But if we do our best to appreciate the present moment, it brings a sense of completeness and fulfillment to whatever we do, no matter how mundane or ordinary.