This blog is based on a journal entry from Apr. 4, 2015 during my trip to Southeast Asia post-graduation.
I was in paradise.
Every day I woke up to beautiful palm trees, serene beaches, and delicious cheap pad thai. I had just graduated from college 3 months prior, saved up plenty of money for this trip to live like a king, and was completely free of responsibility halfway across the world. I took beautiful pictures, posting on Instagram as my life seemed like a dream come true.
After all, this is the life that most people today idolize and envy. If you ask someone what they would most like to do if they were rich, many will say, "I would love to travel the world to explore and try different foods". So here I was in this paradise, living a dream, yet some part of me felt like there was more to live for.
Don't get me wrong, the food and experiences were AMAZING and a great relief from stressing out at the office everyday. However, I gained some valuable insight and perspective from the trip. I learned there are the 3 things that you should avoid in order to not get sucked into the trap of materialism and hedonism.
1. COMPARING : I believe there a healthy and unhealthy type of comparing. The first type is inspirational, which is the excitement and curiosity you feel from being exposed to different perspectives and new experiences. For example, someone living in America their entire life eating American food and experiencing American culture can be interested in exploring other cultures and eating exotic foods. Someone can also enjoy talking to others because they can share different ideas and thoughts. This is the healthy type of comparison which runs on the paradigm that sounds like...
"Cool, I wonder what else is out there that I don't know".
Then, there's the unhealthy type of comparison which runs on the paradigm of, "Shit, look at all these things other people have that I don't. What's wrong with me?" This type of comparison is compulsive and self deprecating. When I first experienced Thailand, my perception and internal dialogue was "Oh my gosh, this is amazing and incredible!" and thus it was. Later, it turned into "I wonder if theres a better, more popular restaurant I'm missing out on" or "Look at all these things I'm not going to have time to do".
This is really toxic especially in our age as we are exposed to technology and social media that constantly has us comparing our status to our friends. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are big culprits (Instantaneous ways to feel inferior).
2. STRIVING FOR PERFECTION : And because you compare, there's a overwhelming compulsion to strive for perfection. There becomes a certain standard and bar that you set for yourself of what's "good". And if you don't meet that, you're hard on yourself and think you're a failure. The trap with materialism is that the bar can rise easily without you even noticing it. As you attain more, you get sucked into that idea of perfection, which has no bounds.
When I first arrived in Thailand, I noticed myself being in the "honey-moon" phase. Every new place I went to was amazing and I'd appreciate every new meal I ate. I was on a high because all these experiences were new to me and this allowed me to consciously enjoy it. However, I noticed later on in the trip, this high started to wear off.
I started noticing myself complaining about the heat, feeling tired after walking long periods of time, and treating eating amazing food by the beach as just a normal everyday event. I'd want to go to the "best" restaurants in order to get the most optimal experience of my vacation and make sure I'm getting the most out of each destination. I wondered whether the pictures I took were good enough to capture the beauty of the paradise.
The real question is, what is the underlying fear behind the need to be perfect? What are you afraid of if you aren't perfect? And what does this say about yourself?
3. FEEDING YOUR EGO : Pretty soon you realize that you become attached to the things you have and they become part of your identity. This invites even more comparing and striving for perfection and all of a sudden you're craving more things and more experiences. You feel a sense of superiority to others because of these things, which can feel like a dirty high at times. However, you're always putting effort into maintaining the status and find yourself compulsively feeding and managing the image. This is incredibly draining and time-consuming. Who are you trying to prove to anyways?
I put this out not to discourage materialistic things but to be able to enjoy them in a way that doesn't pull you into an endless cycle of energy-draining compulsive behavior. I still love my fancy restaurants, expensive vacations, and cool technology and gadgets but make a conscious effort to not get sucked into these traps.