While you were off seeing the world and gaining otherwise monumental and life changing experiences most of your friends were probably stuck at home. Now that you’re back, they aren’t really dying to hear about it.
That, at least, is what a recent study by a team led by Harvard psychologist Daniel T. Gilbert and published in the journal Psychological Science suggests. Entitled The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience, it says that those hoping to share news of their adventures will almost certainly be disappointed by the social interaction afterward. The authors explain their findings:
We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling worse than they would have felt if they had had an ordinary experience instead. Participants were able to predict the benefits of having an extraordinary experience but were unable to predict the costs. These studies suggest that people may pay a surprising price for the experiences they covet most.
The authors reached these conclusions by using short films, one a quality, high-rated film (the extraordinary experience) and another a lousy, low-rated film (the ordinary experience). They then had one subject watch the high-rated film while another three watched the low-rated one separately; afterward they all met to chat.
According to the research, those who watched the high-rated film expected to be the star of the conversation but instead felt left out while the other three discussed their bad experience. At the end of it all, subjects who watched the better film felt worse than those who watched the lousy one. Missing out on the social interaction spoiled the whole experience.
When it comes down to it people would rather complain about a shared lousy event than hear about a great one that they didn’t experience. The researchers say this experiment will apply to many situations, but they also realize that there are some experiences others will enjoy hearing about. It depends on the story and your delivery and, of course, your audience, but it’s a fine line between interesting and self-indulgent.