16 Nov The Sharing Effect: Adventures with Others Make You Feel Better
I never traveled much when I was young. My father, a World War II veteran who served in Europe, forever after associated long journeys with wartime. When he returned home, he pretty much stayed put.
The first time I traveled outside of the United States, I was in my late forties. My employer at the time, the University of Wisconsin, asked me to accompany a group of alumni to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to see polar bears in the wild. I had never met any of these soon-to-be fellow travelers before, and I was a bit nervous to think that I was going to be undertaking such an unusual, adventurous and momentous life event with a group of complete strangers.
We know that there are many good reasons to travel: it allows us to safely “try on” alternate lives, builds confidence and raises our tolerance for uncertainty, among other advantages. And whether we chose to travel alone or with a group, those same benefits accrue.
But recent research shows that when we add a dash of adventure to our travels—such as my first trip outside the borders of the U.S. to see wild polar bears—it’s better to bring along companions: family, friends or, surprisingly, even people we’ve never previously met.
When you’re too far out, you don’t fit in
According to a study published in the December 2014 issue of the journal Psychological Science, titled “The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience,” unusual adventures exact a price: uncommon experiences tend to alienate us from our peers.
In an experiment, researchers treated a group of 68 university students—broken into groups of four—to a movie screening. One person from each group was sent to a cubicle to watch an interesting video of a talented street magician performing tricks for an appreciative crowd. The other three were assigned to watch a mundane clip of a low-budget cartoon. All were aware of whether they had been assigned the engaging task or the boring one.
The researchers then took each foursome to a room. Before leaving their groups alone, they instructed the participants to talk to one another. Five minutes later, the researchers returned. Participants were then given a survey with two questions: 1) “How do you feel right now?,” rated on a 100-point scale, and 2) “How did you feel during the interaction that took place?,” rated on a 100-point spectrum between the poles of “excluded” and “included.”
In direct contrast to what you might think, people who watched the more unusual video felt worse than those who watched the ordinary one by about 10 points. On average, they also felt more excluded by 30 points. The study’s authors concluded that because conversations thrive on ordinary topics, anyone who has an extraordinary experience has a hard time fitting in.
People seem to be hardwired to crave acceptance, belonging and camaraderie, qualities that come more readily to those who fit in than to those who stand out. Having extraordinary adventures, then, gives you little in common with those who regularly have run-of-the-mill experiences. The resulting abnormality, jealously and strangeness can cause adventurers to feel left out. That’s why sharing your adventures with at least one other person—and, better yet, more—can make them feel sweeter.
Togetherness increases the intensity of your travels
The results of another study, titled “Shared Experiences Are Amplified,” published in the same issue of Psychological Science, shows that sharing experiences—even with a complete stranger or people you meet for the first time on a group trip—may make you rate them as more intense than if you undergo them alone.
In this experiment, participants were told to eat a square of 70-percent dark chocolate. Results showed that people liked the candy more when they ate it at the same time as another study participant. They believed the chocolate to be more “flavorful” than those who were asked to eat the chocolate while alone.
It’s clear that when we embark on a new adventure, our experience will be intensified if we pair it with other people. And once we return home and talk about it, people who can relate with our exploits really matter. The next time you feel like lacing up your hiking boots or taking on the challenge of some white water, I suggest you grab a friend to go along for the ride.
As for my first real adventure—seeing polar bears in the wild in Canada’s sub-Arctic with a group of strangers—I came home a week later with 13 dear friends. None of us wanted the travel high to end. After that first trip, we subsequently went on six more adventure-travel tours together. Knowing that I have several people I can talk to about those adventures, who truly understand what it was like to be there, and who can relate to my experience is priceless. And I now have people with whom I can share some deep-felt and hearty laughs.
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,
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