Perpetual peak experiences seemed mine by birthright. Growing up my father provided me and my family with opportunities to live in Hong Kong and Japan. In college I returned to Japan to spend a year as an exchange student at Waseda University.
Perpetual peak experiences destroys joy
As an expatriate living at the posh Victoria’s Peak address, my father’s company paid for a home leave trip every year. In addition to that perk, my father received a generous housing allowance and tuition for the private school my brother and I attended. All of these experiences primed me to believe falsely that peak experiences should fill my life. All. The. Time.
In adulthood I’ve tried to recreate this fantasy. A peak experience job with no boring days or boorish co-workers, a peak experience house located in the heart of whatever city I resided in, peak experience clothes, and a personal favorite fantasy of mine, peak eating experiences, drove me to spend more than I earned and create a perpetual well of dissatisfaction.
My striving for peak experiences all the time destroys contentment and joy. I grew incapable of handling boredom and resented shopping and caring for the things I purchased. Life failed me, or so I concluded. Now I see that my approach and expectations reeked of entitlement. Now I see that my approach created increasing lifestyle creep and discontent.
Striving for perpetual peak experiences hurt my money and my relationships and my health. I also think I’ve contributed my share of overfishing, green house gases and a whole bunch of other things bad for the planet.
I needed to embrace long-suffering. Dave Bruno, founder of the 100 things challenge, has this to say about how avoidance of suffering creates clutter in our lives:
One of the oddities of modern life is many of our messes can be traced back to our effort to avoid long-suffering. It is the way of modernity; we add stuff to our lives to make our lives more efficient and effortless. Some people are not going to like reading this, but do you know how “more efficient and effortless” is translated into plain English? “Messy.”
Know this: pursuing a life of simplicity inevitably means more long-suffering. From the trivial pains of having to wear the same clothes week after week because you do not have several closets full of options, to the more serious difficulties of making family and friends uncomfortable because you are not going with the flow of consumer culture.
A lifestyle of simplicity is not an overnight success. It takes time and effort. Carl Jung said that the avoidance of legitimate suffering leads to neuroses. Inefficiency and hard work are legitimate sufferings. We cannot escape them with a purchase from the mall. A lifestyle of simplicity will make long-suffering more acute, which is to say it will make life more human. This is a good thing. Trust me, it is also less messy.
Striving for perpetual peak experiences made me less human. In fact, doing so made me more robotic. Getting caught up in the frenzy of buying to feel better about myself, made me a bore. Despite professing a belief in radical principles, I practiced a life of curated consumerism. Call me a snob and I would agree!
The pursuit of these peak experiences has ended up giving me a lot of stuff, stuff that gets in the way of my relationship with Ms. H, stuff that gets in the way of retiring early. Stuff that won’t matter as I lay dying.