A strong case can be made for prioritising ‘experientialism’ over materialism; that is, looking for contentment in experiences, rather than material things. Psychological research shows that pursuing experiences over things makes us happier. Materialism has been linked to personality disorders such as narcissism, social anxiety and generally being dissatisfied with life.
Taking some time out to travel might make you less materialistic if it solidifies the notion that you can find more meaning and fulfilment in having new experiences than buying more stuff. But even so, the pursuit of experiences can take on the flavour of materialism. It can result in consuming and collecting experiences as if they were material things. Moreover, sneering at ‘materialistic people’ pursuing status kind of falls flat when travelling, for example, becomes a status-seeking, ego-boosting game.
One-upping is, I think, the most obvious example of how travelling can turn into a status game. It can happen when you have someone telling a travel story, then someone else – instead of genuinely taking interest in the story – uses it as an opportunity to one-up the person.
There can definitely be a competitive and boastful nature about recounting stories about extreme budgeting or how crazy/adventurous/beautiful/special/’spiritual’/‘authentic’ an experience was.
This doesn’t mean that living on $10 a day in Nepal or visiting hill tribes in Myanmar isn’t worth sharing with others, but I’ve seen travellers turn the telling and swapping of stories into a status-boosting game. So if someone lived on $10 a day, then someone else might interject with how they lived on even less (but probably had less of a good time) or if someone visited a hill tribe, then someone else might reply with how they visited a hill tribe in an even more remote region. And this kind of muddies what could otherwise be a genuine and engaging conversation.
People who espouse a distaste for the status-seeking behaviour of ‘materialistic people’ may be chasing ‘experiential status’ or have a ‘spiritual ego’ that’s worth examining.
Promoting Our Social Media Selves
As I’ve written elsewhere, we often use social media as a way to present and promote ourselves as a brand. On Facebook and Instagram, we create a highlights reel of our lives and, in turn, a perfected version of who we are. The very nature of social media encourages this. It’s part of the reason that we feel so eager to post photos of our awesome experiences because gaining a positive reputation is naturally rewarding. If people are motivated to share news on social media as a way to attain status, then I think it’s likely that certain experiences are shared for that reason as well; so we can give an impression to others of what we are like.
There is no doubt a competitive edge to all of those irritating and heavily filtered travel photos all over Instagram. The perfectly orchestrated and cliche pose, and over-saturation of colour and hashtags are all there to try and impress others.
If any of these points sound judgemental, I’ve been guilty myself of one-upping and constant travel updates on Facebook. Experientialism shouldn’t mean being more excited about showing off an experience than actually having it. An ‘experiential ego’ can be problematic in a similar way to a ‘spiritualised ego’.
All worthy pursuits are susceptible to egotism. This is why it’s important to maintain awareness of the ‘games’ we might be playing. We are all guilty of playing these ego games. But we don’t have to get trapped in them.