Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you
Aldous Huxley (English novelist)
Feeling alive or a sense of aliveness is nurtured through the fullness and richness of our experiences. Not only does this enhance our quality of life but it also makes us more alert which, in turn, can help us manage any situation better. No doubt that harsh circumstances (e.g. overwork) may have an adverse effect on this area, but favourable circumstances do not guarantee a sense of aliveness and the quality of our experiences. For example, research shows that after a certain basic level, material wealth has a very small effect on personal feelings of well-being and happiness.(1) But you don’t need research as evidence for this. We all know that a sense of emptiness is not rare among materially privileged people, while others in quite deprived situations have managed to lead fulfilling lives. What really matters is how we relate to our experiences, and what we make out of them. This is going to be the main topic of this area. Risk taking, which is closely linked to this subject, will also be addressed.
The ways of enhancing our experience
Experience can be enhanced through:
- Diversity (quantity): trying a number of different things, striving to have more and more different experiences.
- Variation (quality): varying the same experience, discovering greater subtlety or complexity in the familiar.
For example, you can try several sports or enjoy playing one better and better; you can listen to different tunes or listen to the same song a number of times; you can have many partners or have a deep relationship with one person. Diversity can be enriching because of the element of novelty and is linked to enhancing the intensity of experience (excitement). On the other hand, ‘variation on the same theme’ may have a greater effect overall as it is likely to provide more depth. This is not to say that one is better than the other. The exercise below is an encouragement to try both: