“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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I believe a latte tastes better when sipped with someone who is also sipping a latte. This belief applies to many things in life – not just other gastric pleasures. It may seem intuitive that you will enjoy something more when in the company of others, but in fact, you may enjoy an ordinary experience with others even more than an extraordinary experience alone. By simply sharing experiences, we can build a greater connection with others.
What is the importance of sharing experiences?
In The Atlantic article “The Importance of Sharing Experiences”, they delved into some of the research behind this concept. In one study, they looked at from Psychological Science, they indicated “that unusual experiences have a social cost, in that they alienate us from our peers.” As part of the study, researchers presented movies to four groups of university students, where one person from each group saw an interesting, “extraordinary” video and the rest of the group saw a mundane, boring video. The groups then chatted amongst themselves. The people who watched the extraordinary video felt worse and excluded when rated afterwards. Interestingly, they quote Gus Cooney, a Harvard Ph.D. student and the study’s lead author, “Conversations thrive on ordinary topics”.
The Atlantic article then cited another experiment from the same authors where they asked a new group of subjects to picture themselves watching the two different videos. The subjects had to speculate how they thought they would feel during the post-viewing chat. They anticipated that the extraordinary experience would make them feel better even though the opposite was true. The authors speculate that the joy from an extraordinary experience fades while the feeling of not fitting in with our peers lingers. It is very interesting and true when you think about experiences in your own life – if you described one of your extraordinary adventures to others, do you think they would feel they had a common bond with you or would you feel some form of social rejection?
Another interesting concept about shared experiences is that they are amplified. In studies out of Yale University, they found that “sharing an experience with another person, without communicating, amplifies one’s experience.” In one study, participants tasted pleasant chocolate and it was rated as more enjoyable when tasted at the same time as another person. Interestingly, the contrary held true, unpleasant bitter chocolate was rated as less likeable when they tasted it at the same time as someone else. “Both pleasant and unpleasant experiences were more intense when shared.”
Another article that cites this study from the Association of Psychological Science accurately points at the implications of this research in our world of distractions and quotes the main researcher from the study saying: “We text friends while at a party, check our Twitter feed while out to dinner, and play Sudoku while watching TV with family – without meaning to, we are unsharing experiences with the people around us. A pleasant experience that goes unshared is a missed opportunity to focus on the activity we and others are doing and give it a boost.”
Finding shared meaning
Shared experiences can help us find shared meaning. Gottman, a notable relationship expert, outlines this concept as a way to build connection. He says it helps settle conflicts to collectively pursue the goals that matter, and when two people find meaning, they are willing to support one another’s dreams, even when there is little to gain from doing so. He states that recognizing another persons values, goals and dreams, and talking about it, can be a tremendously helpful way to build emotional connections.
We can also find shared meaning through the use of rituals – by engaging in meaningful activities that draws people together emotionally. One great example includes the ritual of evening meals – they can be the greatest source of connection and engagement in a given day.
Shared experiences & work environments
Not surprisingly, these concepts are also applicable outside of the home – at work. For example, in the medical environment, both teams and groups are common during both medical training and once in practice. Unfortunately, when people with differing ideals and goals are brought together, conflict is not that uncommon.
Fortunately, by creating shared experiences and finding common meaning, people can create connection and reduce conflict. For instance, organizing social events, creating personal and professional mission statements, wellness initiatives, and fundraising activities can strengthen collective bonds.
Do you engage in any family rituals that create a shared experience and meaning?
Gottman, J.M. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Harmony: New York.
Gottman, J.M. (2001). The Relationship Cure. Harmony: New York.