The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines experience as “the process of doing and seeing things and of having things happen to you.”
Unarguably, our life is made up of experiences. It is a common thing we all share and yet something that is so unique to every individual.
Experiences are things that tie us to every person on the planet, knowing that there is no single person in the world that goes through life without any experience.
Yet, the quality of our experiences is so unique that even a lifetime sometimes won’t be enough to make sense of their meanings.
The stories we create, tell, and share, can even outlive us eventually and our experiences become history. Because of this, our experiences, or at least the ones that impact us profoundly are truly worth examining.
These life events may seem at times to happen to us randomly and to a certain degree by a stroke of fate, yet their effects can be very profound and impacting.
At some point in their lives, almost everyone seeks some level of understanding of their life purpose or their place in the universe.
‘Why are we here?’
Learning to understand how experiences have and continue to shape you is an obvious starting point to resolving this yearning. Grasping the understanding that we have the ability to choose better outcomes is life changing.
What is the Power of an Experience?
How our experiences recreate us all in each instance and shape our lives ultimately makes our valuable experiences more than just meaningless or random events.
When we look at them closely alongside our many curiosities and questions in life, experiences can be abundant with answers and can further guide us with greater meaning throughout our life journey.
Experience on a Personal Level
Before we commune with others around us through our shared experiences we first encounter life in a very personal and intimate way – through our unique experiences.
Our past experiences, consisting of both positive and negative life events, always impact us. Whether we like it or not, good and bad things happen to us at any time. As adults, we tend to think we have more control over our experiences, but such is not always the case.
Profound life experiences can happen without warning, but it is up to us to either respond or react to them accordingly. It may not be obvious, but there is also a difference between reacting and responding to life’s events.
The method we choose will also determine how much meaning we create from our experiences.
Early Experiences Have Great Impacts On Our Life
Our early experiences in life are said to be responsible for shaping definitive aspects of our personality and character. Countless psychological studies point to the fact that early childhood experiences cause a significant impact on our adulthood through the way we view life, how we relate with others, how we cope and behave.
The experiences we go through in early childhood influence our habits and patterns, perspective, mindset, conscious and unconscious beliefs, and ultimately, our direction.
Early childhood experiences ingrain significant habits that profoundly influence our decisions and actions.
Repetition of experiences can create a system of habits once the experience becomes established as an automatic program. As creatures of habits, this is one of the most powerful impacts of experience in a person’s life, and it happens to us unconsciously most of the time.
Power to Change If We Choose
This does not mean that we are locked-in ‘victims’ of our childhood influences. If our early years and their influences were less than ideal, that does mean we are powerless to correct and improve our mindset and worldview.
Many people have moved from adverse and distressing beginnings to make their lives meaningful, successful, and happy.
It still stands that our early years have a huge influence on our present, and changing adverse programming requires sustained psychological effort.
What is the Meaning of our Life Experiences?
Our Life Experiences Enable Us to Create Memories
Without experiences, there won’t be memories we can create from them. Experiences make up our memories, and the memory of a life event then determines the meaning we assign to our experiences.
No matter how similar our experience can be with the experience of others, even shared life events will be experienced differently and remembered uniquely by every person.
This is because we all derive different meanings from every single life encounter. It impacts us consciously through the decisions that we decide to take, and unconsciously through how it shapes our belief or creates trauma in us, for example.
Our Experiences In Life Affect Us Emotionally and Drive Certain Actions
We are all emotional beings. Positive events bring positive emotions of happiness or excitement, whereas negative life events can make us feel sad or angry. How we feel is also largely determined by the meaning we assign to our experiences.
Again, this points to the individuality of our interpretation of our experiences. One person may remember an experience as a happy event, another as less than happy, and someone else may have assigned so little meaning to it as to not even remember it much at all.
Creating meaning from our experiences is ultimately up to us, and not on what the experience is supposed to mean or how it is expected to serve us. While we have the freedom to react emotionally to a very unfortunate situation, we also have the opportunity to choose our response, no matter what life throws our way.
The degree to which we are able to exercise this choice is greatly affected by our state of emotional maturity.
There are two ways to approach our life experiences:
First Approach – Reacting
First, we can react emotionally, which is typically automatic and instinctive. Reacting is purely emotional. Reacting to negative events in our lives seems to take a life on its own, however, this can easily create a series of actions that are often thoughtless, and which can lead to regrets.
Most of the time, emotional reactions have little regard for the possible outcome of a situation. It only sees the present moment and labels the experience emotionally.
Second Approach – Responding
The second approach is not instinctive, but more intelligent – responding. Responding is the act of taking a pause to think about the stimuli that we just received.
While we can always react instantly, choosing to respond is intentional and can be said to be more responsible.
Responding is trying to understand what just happened and putting more thought into our actions. It is deliberate, mindful, and considers the possible outcomes of our actions.
Creating meaning from our life experiences and choosing to either react emotionally or respond consciously will profoundly impact us more than the experience itself.
This is something we can choose to consider in order to minimize the power of a negative experience in causing us future emotional harm.
Shared Experiences Bring People Together
We experience things individually, but it ultimately becomes more powerful when it leads us to a series of actions. Our actions affect others. Our experiences are not solely for our benefit, but it affects the people in our lives too, more than we sometimes realize.
Our experiences allow us to share stories and connect with others. Nowadays, we are experiencing a heightened involvement in the experiences and lives of other people as we find ourselves connected to a multitude of individuals from across the world, from various environments and cultures.
This is made very possible through the constantly wired world of the internet.
The old world saw us mostly only being influenced by the lives of the people we personally knew back then.
That generally involved family and relatives, friends, the people we worked with, and people from our neighborhood. Although not limited only to these groups, they were mostly the ones we regularly communicated and did things with.
It’s easy to see how our daily experiences were mostly based on our interactions with the people in our immediate family and environment back when the internet and the virtual world didn’t make up such a large part of our lives.
Today, we find ourselves more connected than ever to other people via the internet.
With the virtual world taking a huge chunk of our time and daily activities, we’re constantly bombarded with information coming from all sorts of avenues.
Interacting with different kinds of people from all over the virtual world opens us to a variety of possibilities and experiences that we can potentially participate in.
The limits are certainly much less than before. In fact, we could build an entirely new life from the comfort of our homes with just a computer that is connected to the internet.
One of the best things about the internet is providing us the opportunity to do life from anywhere we choose. We can find jobs, build businesses, attend school, create relationships, purchase almost all we desire, and manage our lives without having to leave home.
This is the immense power of the internet, and this experience is happening to all who have access to it which increases daily.
The Meaning of Life is to Create Meaning
Our life is made up of experiences. Every moment is an experience. But not all experiences affect us in the same way or to the same level of impact and change our lives dramatically.
However, there are indeed definitive experiences that will change the course of our lives from time to time.
Our experiences greatly influence the meaning we create in life for ourselves. But it is our responsibility to find and create this meaning. It is up to us to define it.
Sometimes we come to a point in life where we question our existence and experience the phenomenon called an existential crisis. This common experience points us to the fact that it is natural for us as humans to seek to find meaning in our lives or to understand our purpose.
Nobody will be able to provide us with all the answers. We’re highly unlikely to find our purpose in a random place or have our life’s meaning serendipitously fall into our lap. We will have to define it ourselves.
A starting point is by making sense of the events that have happened in our lives and examining our past experiences.
Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, is known for this memorable line: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Around 2,500 years ago, he was known as the wisest man that ever lived in ancient Greece. Socrates ended up on trial and was sentenced to death for allegedly corrupting the mind of young people.
What he did to be charged with the crime was to challenge people to think for themselves. Although he would not have foreseen it, the ancient philosopher’s wise advice is just as applicable to us today.
Our experiences can only do so much to lead us to ‘Aha!’ moments. When it comes to finding our life’s purpose and deriving meaning from our experiences, we must first initiate the process of self-examination.
Self-Reflection and Looking Within
The following questions are helpful when we’re examining and reflecting on our life experiences.
- What was the event that happened in my life?
- What does this experience mean to me?
- How does this make me feel?
- What did and could this experience teach me?
- What do I want to change and improve should I encounter this or a similar situation or event again?
- Is this last step aligned to my dreams, visions, and hope?
- If not, how can I reframe my planning to be better united with my goal set?
These are just a few generalized questions to begin asking ourselves.
Helping Ourselves by Reframing Difficult Experiences
It is important to ask questions and not just passively submit to whatever life appears to hand us. We make sense of our lives by looking inwards and not being afraid to prompt ourselves to ask the daunting and difficult questions that lead to more clarity and enlightenment.
The reality is, too many of us might be afraid to review or even revisit our experiences, especially if they have been unfortunate or traumatic. It’s easy to cherish good memories, but adversities are hardly the moments we want to relive.
It’s normal and healthy to feel that way, but it’s also important for us to be able to look at our past experiences as objectively as possible. Most certainly there can be experiences that reliving will not provide any benefit and can be emotionally harmful.
However, there are almost certainly experiences where we know we haven’t manifested our best selves. At its simplest, we want to learn from our mistakes.
Life is yin and yang. We’ll always have a share of both good and bad experiences to remember. While good experiences are blessings, bad experiences are not necessarily cursed.
The good news is that we can reframe our negative experiences to make them work for us, not against us.
Too many people don’t get the chance to see the hidden blessing from their negative experiences because they bury them deep down, forget, and run away at the slightest reminder of such an event occurring once again.
While all these fears and anxieties enable our survival instinct, avoidance won’t help us grow out of what has happened to us nor let wounds heal.
Also, left unresolved, a common and unfortunate method of avoidance involves using mind-numbing substances such as drugs and alcohol, which can diminish our life experience.
The best way to help ourselves and really grow as a person is to face life head-on, as much as we are emotionally able at any point in time, and that includes reframing our challenging experiences.
The ability to do so will vary during our lifespan, not coincidentally, largely due to our experiences.
The Power to Choose
This means that actively choosing better experiences will increase our ability to overcome and diminish the effects of experiences that we perceive to be negative or damaging.
If the greater portion of our experiences are perceived by us as negative, we will view our lives as being unhappy.
We will tend to blame external factors and feel powerless very often. When we are able to ‘balance the books’ by increasing the ratio of happy, productive, memorable experiences, we feel empowered and seek more of the same.
Choosing better inputs (people, places, lifestyle habits, etc.) will have huge impacts that will increase the opportunities and likelihood of better experiences occurring.
When we take the time to reflect, we most often find valuable lessons and derive greater meaning from our experiences, as well as a better understanding of ourselves.
Doing so helps us to create better, grander, happier, and more joyous experiences in our present and future.
There are many good things that can happen when we examine our experiences and go inward to find more clarity.
Only in doing so are we also able to empower ourselves to create our own meaning from both good and bad experiences that happen to us.
When we find a deeper purpose in our experiences, we not only create meaning for ourselves.
Self-awareness ultimately helps us to understand others better, too, and this will benefit us greatly in all our dealing with others.
Making sense of our experiences enables us to create meaning for our lives and connects us with others in a powerful way.
What makes an examined life truly worth living is that it helps us become happier humans and more able to connect and empathize with other human beings going through the same journey.
We become more tolerant and compassionate, and we extend this to ourselves also.