About ten years ago, I noticed that everywhere I turned, I was met with pictures of lean and beautiful celebrities, strolling in their designer yoga pants, carrying their environmentally-friendly yoga mats, looking impossibly serene despite the sea of paparazzi through which they had to walk to get to their yoga class. “I want that!” I declared to myself, and purchased several yoga videos to practice at home.
I know these videos work for some people (my sister has done them religiously for years), but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into them. Within about ten minutes, I was impatiently checking out the clock, wondering how much longer I would have to do sun salutations or struggle through downward dog. After a few weeks, I got tired of forcing myself to do the videos, and abandoned them altogether.
Six years later, I watched the movie version of one of my favorite books, “Eat, Pray, Love” and was swept away yet again by Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey. So, I decided to give yoga another try. However, this time, I ventured into a local studio and signed up for a class.
Immediately I was transfixed. The experience of being part of a small community of people all manipulating our bodies into various versions of the same poses, listening to the same ambient electronic music, smelling the same sandalwood incense, and reverently joining our voices in the same “om” at the end of the class, relaxed and nourished me in ways that doing it alone couldn’t touch. Interestingly, I felt an overwhelmingly positive experience even though I didn’t talk to anyone except for the teacher during my first few forays to class. Each time I left totally renewed, feeling as if I was walking on air, while also feeling a sense of connection to my classmates.
So had I grown immensely as a person across those four years? Perhaps. Had I just made horrible choices as a consumer in picking the videos the first time around? Maybe (though the five star reviews they got would suggest otherwise). Had my muscles become more flexible across time, making the yoga contortions easier this time? Sadly, definitely not!
New psychological research provides another possible reason as to why my encounters with yoga were so different both times around. In two studies, Yale researchers found that sharing an experience with others, even without communicating, amplifies that experience. In the first study, the researchers had people taste chocolate and found that the subjects rated the chocolate as more flavorful and likable when they tasted it at the same time as another person (compared to tasting it in the presence of another person who was doing something else).
In other words, a positive experience became more positive when it was shared with someone else, even though it was a stranger with whom the subjects weren’t communicating.
The flip side, however, is that negative experiences are also amplified by others’ presence. In the second study, the subjects were given bitter chocolate to eat. In that instance, they rated it as being less pleasant when they were with someone else who was also tasting it with them. The researchers suspected that when you are sharing an experience with someone else, it causes you to be more focused on it, and as a result, it heightens your experience, positively or negatively.
One of the researchers also noted that our attention to technology can cause us to miss out on opportunities for amplifying positive experiences. So, for example, if you are checking your email while with a friend at the park or posting on Facebook while at dinner with your spouse, you are missing out on possible positive shared experiences.
The bottom line? To up the ante on your positive experiences, share them with someone. You will be better off for it!
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