How to See Through the False Allure of ‘Epic’ Experiences
Source: Denys Nevozhai / Unsplash
We live in an era of social media highlights. It’s easy to feel like everyone else is having the time of their lives — aka “peaking” — while stuck in the same old routine.
You can question your seemingly mundane life with thoughts like:
- “Why do I feel like I’m missing out on everything exciting?”
- “Will I relive the same boring day forever?”
- “Am I missing a special quality that successful people have?”
What we might be looking for is what psychologist Gayle Privette, in her research, calls “pinnacle experiences”—transcendent moments of pure joy that share three key characteristics:
- meaning or meaning
- spiritual meaning
Some examples of summit experiences are:
- Exotic, unique vacation
- Jump out of an airplane
- Meet a beloved celebrity
Interestingly, studies show that summit experiences are not only extremely rare, but can also make life afterwards seem anticlimactic. Here’s what psychologists say about the unforeseen costs of peak experiences:
People seek out-of-the-ordinary experiences, from drinking rare wines to jumping out of planes. But is such an experience worth it? We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences superior to those of their peers, but that such experiences tainted their subsequent social interactions and ultimately made them feel worse than they would have felt if they had an ordinary experience instead would have done.
While you can’t sip champagne on a private jet every day — and while research suggests it’s not even psychologically beneficial — you can celebrate the small things in life by focusing on the highlights of your ordinary days. Here are three ways to work out more lace pockets within the confines of your normal routine.
1. Seek fulfillment.
When it comes to fulfillment, trying to replicate the lives of others is a false start. According to research, what you perceive as fulfillment is a question of personal values and goals.
If you’re feeling unfulfilled (or underfulfilled), chances are your current life doesn’t reflect what you hold dear. For example, if spending time with your family is a real priority in your life, solo travel won’t bring you the fulfillment you’re looking for.
Here are a few questions to help you identify your fulfillment factors.
- Which of the roles you play in life brings you the most satisfaction? For some, it may be a parent. For others, it might be CEO. Whatever it is, making changes in your life so you can devote more time to your preferred role can increase your fulfillment.
- What parts of your current life are you most grateful for? Gratitude is an effective litmus test for fulfillment. Not only does it help you realize what’s important to you, but it also helps you find fulfillment in areas of your life that you may be neglecting.
2. Seek meaning.
The desire for a peak experience can lead a person to say no to a variety of seemingly ordinary or unimportant experiences, such as helping and being useful to others. It seems counterintuitive to do anything for anyone else, since our pursuit of a summit experience is not meant for anyone but ourselves.
However, research suggests the opposite. There are many experiences that people derive immense meaning from that don’t directly benefit them – parenting, philanthropy, volunteering, donating blood, helping a friend move, etc. These are all experiences that may cost you personally, but they will ultimately bring meaning to purpose.
So the next time you feel like your life is ordinary and underwhelming, instead of focusing on making your day better, try making someone else’s day better. Some of the happiest people are those who give their lives to make the lives of others and the world a better place.
3. Search for spirituality.
One of the reasons why life before and after a “peak experience” may seem unsavory is that human desire has no limits. Once we experience something extraordinarily exciting and rewarding, it becomes our new normal.
The transience of the “summit experience” is their fatal flaw. Research shows that one of the antidotes to the dopamine spike of a peak experience is to cultivate a sense of long-lasting bliss in your life through spirituality.
Here are two ways to begin your spiritual journey.
- Establish a mediation practice. This is one of the most important ways to look inward, not outward, for happiness and positivity. The many benefits of meditation include increasing genuine happiness and decreasing pleasure-seeking behavior. Be it mindfulness, loving kindness, or simply chanting “Om,” incorporating a meditation practice into your daily routine can have immense benefits.
- Consider psychedelics. Psychedelic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca can be powerful initiators of a spiritual journey. Being careful and intentional about your psychedelic experience (ie, consulting with a doctor) can prove to be one of the most meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling experiences of your life.
Summit experiences make for interesting stories, but a conscious and curious life leads to an interesting life. Welcoming all that life has to offer with open arms and an open heart can do you far more good than any peak experience.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.