Having Extraordinary Experiences Might Cost You In Social Standing, Happiness

Extraordinary experiences like climbing dangerous rock formations, sky diving or amazing vacations where you meet the Dalai Lama might cost you in the long run, even if they were amazing adventures in the moment. When we have an extraordinary experience, it’s only natural to want to tell our friends about it. According to new research, sharing the details of your extraordinary experiences might cause you to distance yourself from the people in your social circle.

“Extraordinary experiences are pleasurable in the moment but can leave us socially worse off in the long run,” according to Gus Cooney, psychological scientist from Harvard University in Cambridge and author of the new research published in the journal Psychological Science.

Cooney said that he noticed when people engage with each other socially, they tend to talk about ordinary things. Day-to-day life is the social dialogue most relationships are built upon, Cooney noticed. He began to wonder “if there might be times when extraordinary experiences have more costs than benefits, and whether people know what those times are,” and he put that theory to the test.

Cooney and his team designed a study where 68 test subjects came to the research lab in groups of four, according to Medical News Today.

In the study, three of the four participants in a group each watched a mundane animated video, while the fourth participant of every group watched a video that had higher rating and offered the viewer a better experience. After watching the video, the researchers let the participants talk among themselves.

The participants that watched the more extraordinary video assumed that they would be the center of the discussion, given that they had a better experience to tell the group, Cooney explained. In reality, the participants that watched the video that offered the better experience left the social experience feeling worse than those who watched the more ordinary animated video.

Cooney and his team said that more data led them to conclude that the participants that had the more extraordinary experiences felt worse, because they hadn’t anticipated the social costs of having a more extraordinary experience than the rest of the social group.

The team did two more experiments to learn more about the social costs of extraordinary experiences. In the next two additional experiments, participants were asked how they thought that the person given the more exciting experience might feel. Medical News Today said that participants assumed the person with the better experience would feel better, but the participants were wrong.

The participants also assumed that the people with the better experiences would have more to say during the chatting period that followed, but they were wrong there too. The participants who had the more extraordinary experiences ended up talking less, because they felt excluded, the research showed.

“The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation,” Cooney explained. “But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities.”

“When choosing between experiences, don’t just think about how they will feel when they happen – think about how they will impact your social interactions,” Cooney adds. “If an experience turns you into someone who has nothing in common with others, then no matter how good it was, it won’t make you happy in the long run.”

“Extraordinary experiences have two consequences, one of which may be more obvious than the other,” Cooney said, according to Pacific Standard. “The obvious consequence is that they are enjoyable. The less-obvious consequence is that such experiences can make the people who have them strangers to everyone else on earth—and, as a rule, earthlings do not treat strangers so nicely.”

The researches said that they might have included another round in the study where three people in a group were given the extraordinary experiences while the odd-man-out was given the ordinary experience to see how that changed the dynamics of the conversation within each social group.

[Photo via Pixabay]