We had spent the last week hiking through deep, dense forests. Our ‘guides’ seemed to be making up new trails as they went. Leeches were our biggest enemy, wriggling up from the trail and clearly visible in the threads of sunlight that could be seen through the dense canopy of trees. Just the day prior, I was bitten by a pufferfish while floating down an isolated, gently flowing creek.
The generator in our cabin was already turned off for the night, so I pointed my flashlight at the thud. It was a giant bug, about the size of a chicken nugget, that had fallen from the ceiling and landed on my sleeping wife’s neck. I brushed it off, told her what happened, and we laughed about it as we checked the room for any other intruders.
This trip was more than just a bit of fun. Research, and my own experience, has shown that when people share new adventures together the strength of their bond increases dramatically.1 This often happens without any planning or conscience effort. When I first tried skydiving, I didn’t plan on making new friends at the drop zone, but the shared experience of learning to skydive built lasting relationships with my fellow jumpers.
I, however, don’t leave my life to the whims of the world. I don’t expect shared experiences to just happen to me by chance. Instead, I believe that planning shared experiences, and following through on those plans, enables a purposeful and conscience development of healthy relationships.
I can also tell you that not every shared adventure has the same impact. Some new experiences are more effective then others. Seeing the pyramids in Egypt might be a new experience, but just looking at a new thing doesn’t really build stronger bonds. However, if your drive to the pyramids makes you scared for your life, and then you get lost looking for the entry and have to haggle with the camel owners for a tour (as I did with my mother in Egypt) – now you have a powerful shared adventure.
Experiences have the greatest impact when they are challenging, inconvenient, or dangerous. Keep it within limits – if your life is critically in danger, the experience isn’t going to have a positive impact.
Your attitude also makes a big difference. When I see somebody moaning about a miserable experience, about how crappy it is, all I see is a wasted opportunity for a good memory. If you want to enjoy shared moments, you actually have to roll
with the punches. When you’re wet, in the rain, without an umbrella and late for the movies, don’t moan about it to your date- laugh about it and play in the rain!
Cherise and I have gone on many trips together, we took an Arabic class together, we learned rock climbing, we’ve gone on hikes, explored in kayaks, and even opened our own event management company together- enduring the challenges of entrepreneurship side by side.
All of these experiences have brought us closer together. I’ve had similar experiences with friends. I spent the summers of 2004 and 2006 on the Island of Corfu, in Greece, at a massive hostel called The Pink Palace. The guys I spent these summers with are some of my best friends to this day. The same goes for my Fraternity brothers- the same people with whom I endured our (relatively mild) hazing and what we called “hell week” before we became full-blown members.
It’s a total win-win
The befits of shared experiences go far beyond stronger bonds. Experiences themselves have been shown, repeatedly, to increase long-term happiness – while, on the contrary, buying physical goods only increases happiness temporarily.2
As an added bonus, most experiences teach you something. This might be as a direct result of the experience (learning Arabic in an Arabic course) or as an indirect result (learning to wear long pants tucked into your socks when hiking in
Thailand… Beware the leeches!). Alternatively, experiences are far more likely to have positive health benefits than putting your time and money towards physical goods (a hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, including training, will probably help you lose more weight than buying a new treadmill).
Go on, plan your next adventure with you spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend or even some strangers! You won’t regret it!
- Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Aron, Arthur; Norman, Christina C.; Aron, Elaine N.; McKenna, Colin; Heyman, Richard E. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 78(2), Feb 2000, 273–284. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022–35126.96.36.1993↩