Sometimes you hear something for the first time, and you know it’s an old saying. Often it’s the way the person says it; other times it’s something else entirely. When you get the right set of words strung together in a certain way, it only makes sense that the phrase would become a common expression.
A good adage might be true for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be true for some of us, or for all of us at some time in our lives; what it really needs is some kind of hook, though. That way people remember it, and repeat it. A saying can’t become a saying unless people repeat it, after all. Then it somehow begins to say more than is conveyed by its simple grouping of words.
Ever since the first time I heard that experiences were better than things, I thought it sounded kind of strange. I will admit that it certainly is hooky, and evokes some pretty strong imagery with very few words. Maybe I’m just jealous, since I want to have some phrase I came up with become a common part of the modern conversation someday; but I don’t think this is one of those truths we can all stand firm on.
Not to say experiences aren’t great, although clearly not all of them are. This phrase is perfect because it doesn’t have to say all that. I don’t know what you see when you let your mind paint pictures around this idea, but I see a couple different things. First comes a kaleidoscope of fun stuff I like to do, from road trips to roller coasters to cruising; then comes the things, like cars and clothes and houses.
Between me first hearing this phrase and now, some of those images have changed. None of it would be nearly as fun without my lovely wife there to share it with me, so she’s in all those pictures; but what I want has also shifted over the years. A lot of the experiences I used to enjoy aren’t even on my radar any more, and a bunch of things I never used to do are now part of my regular routine.
Also, I want more stuff.
Part of that is because I want that lovely wife I mentioned to be happy and comfortable, of course; but the truth is, most of what I do to make that happen also has an impact on me. Living as a single guy didn’t seem like roughing it, at the time; now I cringe to think of how few minutes I could endure of my old life without complaining about how basic it was.
In reality, this might just boil down to an argument similar to whether it’s better to have arms or legs. The choice is not appealing either way, if having one thing means not having another. It may even be that we need to have one to have the other, in many instances. A road trip would be a long uncomfortable undertaking, with no vehicle; and even a cruise wouldn’t be as much fun if you didn’t have a home to go back to after your vacation is over.
A lot of people would rather have clothes than ride a rollercoaster, if they didn’t own any clothes. Once they have something to wear, maybe they want to have some fun; probably not if it means giving up the clothes, however. It could be that we have so much stuff in modern society that basic necessities are assumed here. Each of us likely has a different list of what we call necessities, though; and most of us can’t really relax and fully immerse ourselves in an experience if any of those basics are missing.
We may form bonds with people by sharing experiences with them, but that’s not the only way we can grow. Learning stuff means owning something, in most cases; and if you own the right device you can learn all kinds of things on it. We can also bond over learning things together, or fixing them; unless we have no things to learn about or fix. Really, the more you think about it…the more it seems like maybe experiences and things are both important.
If we take this a slightly different direction, we can look at how ownership in itself is an experience. You can’t know what it’s like to have a car if you never get one. Or a house, or even a pair of shoes. Owning almost anything has some feelings around it, and that simple continued possession can lead to a multitude of experiences. Maybe a lot of folks don’t get super excited about owning a pair of shoes, but a car or a boat or your favorite jacket all have a bunch of experiences tied to them as well. Big and small, having things quite simply leads to having more experiences.
This may actually be a bit of a bad saying on every level, actually. Focusing on having better things seems like it might lead to a whole bunch of arguably better experiences, while doing a ton of exciting stuff might be a good way to end up with nothing. Maybe I’m taking all the fun out of it, but I think we might need to rethink this entire saying.
I mean…experiences are only better if you have things.
So maybe things are better, after all.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,