Spend money on experiences, not things.

So the traditional saying goes, and in recent times, it’s become somewhat of a mantra.

Article after article after article tout that people who buy experiences are simply happier. Naturally, this means that there are WebMD articles explaining the science of why such people are happier. And of course that means that MBA’s simply have to chime in with corresponding Ted Talks on how companies can utilize this and provide customers with experiences, not just goods.

Google, apparently, agrees.

And yet, every single one of these seems to ignore the flip side: negative experiences. Heck, most of these even come for free - talk about a bargain!

These past two months have been rough.

It started out with my cats getting fleas. Having never had pets before, I had no idea what the symptoms were (nor the treatments). My cats started behaving oddly; they avoided their normal cat condo, and soon started sleeping on the rugs in the bathroom. Then they moved the hardwood floors. We recently had an earthquake, so I just assumed they were startled from that. I shrugged and went on with life.

Then I started getting bug bites. They were mainly a couple; may be one every other day, but bug bites aren’t a big deal, so I ignored them. But man were they itchy! And soon enough I was scratching non-stop. I had restless nights of tossing and turning (and scratching), and that’s when I noticed my cats were doing the same. By the time I correctly diagnosed that they were fleas, it was an epidemic, and it was far too late.

I took this video when I first managed to nab one of the fleas (before realizing what kind of bug it really was):

So the month-long flea cycle began.

Flea traps everywhere. Vaccumming twice a day - carpet and hardwood. Quarantining the cats (living room, hardwood floors only). They weren’t allowed outside on the balcony anymore. Washing everything I owned, including bedsheets and curtains every weekend. When that didn’t work, I had to escalate to Flea Busters Rx and gave my cats a hair cut so I could get access to the fleas more easily. I bought flea combs and flea traps; I made them wear flea collars (to little avail), and gave them both an extra dosage of Advantage II.

And finally, after many loads of laundry (sorry California!) and six weeks, the fleas were gone.

In the middle of all of this, I got the flu, and my company went through a huge round of layoffs where many of my friends lost their jobs. And let’s just say the cats weren’t super accommodating; getting a bath every two weeks with the special flea shampoo is not their idea of a good time.

So, after numerous scratches, claw marks, and flea bites (and two very untrusting cats), the cycle finally ended.

During the worst of it, I averaged four hours of sleep a night (for several weeks at a time), slept on the couch, where there were slightly fewer fleas, and idly googled the penalty for killing a cat as I contemplated simply driving by the Bay Bridge and throwing them into the ocean. I was miserable, and the cats were probably even more so.

But somewhere around four weeks into the madness, something flipped in my brain. This was a new experience. So why wasn’t I thrilled? I firmly believed that life was about no experiences, and if that were truly the case, why was I not embracing this new, strange experience?

So I did.

I viewed each and every bug bite as a challenge. Mind over matter - I dared myself to itch as few times as possible. And sure enough, a week later, I wasn’t even scratching anymore. I used this weird epidemic of chores the fleas provided me with as an opportunity in discipline.

No more complaints, no more excuses. Just do it. Put on an audio book and start the day. Vaccuuming in the morning (the entire house) took 20 minutes. Clean out the cat litter and put out new food and water (5 minutes). Take a shower, and go to work. Come back, do the same. It became my hour of solace. I found myself looking forward to my next half hour of chores so I could go to the next chapter. And most importantly, I stopped blaming the cats. It wasn’t their fault, and they were likely far more miserable than I was.

And it started spreading into other areas of my life.

There were so many errands I had piled up that I simply didn’t feel like doing. But if there was one thing that the fleas taught me, it’s that discipline beats everything. Constant action, day by day, beats inhuman effort once a year. So I began adding habits.

Floss every day. Done. Keep the house clean. Done. Do laundry weekly. Done.

So now, having been officially flea-free for a month, I have a whole bunch of new healthy habits. But most importantly, I have a new outlook at my disposal with which I can face new challenges. New experiences are absolutely key to life. New experiences are by definition outside your comfort zone. It’s where you grow as a person and learn. And it’s where you acquire new skills.

So embrace all the new experiences. They each have something important to offer you.