10/08/2014 02:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Study Suggests 'Extraordinary Experiences' Might Make You Feel Bad


Many people seek out extraordinary experiences throughout their lifetimes. If they didn't, recreational activities like skydiving, bungee jumping, zorbing and mountain climbing wouldn't exist.

However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that people who experience extraordinary events are likely to feel less happy than people who experience normal, everyday occurrences. The reasoning is that people who experience extraordinary things have less in common with their peers than people who experience the norm.

The study, titled "The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience," was conducted by Gus Cooney and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, in conjunction with Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia.

Upon dividing their 68 participants into groups of four, the researchers prompted each participant to watch a YouTube video. There were two YouTube videos used for this experiment: one that was an animated video rated two stars, and one that was a four-star-rated video of a street magician performing for an audience.

In each group of four, one participant watched the "extraordinary" four-star video of the street magician performing, while the remaining three group members watched the "ordinary" animated video. All group members were aware of the videos their peers were watching.

After viewing the videos, the participants engaged in an unstructured, five-minute-long conversation. The participants who viewed the extraordinary video of the street magician reported that they felt excluded from the conversation and, as a result, felt worse after the group discussion.

The negative feelings reported by the participants who watched the extraordinary video led the researchers to conclude that experiencing events that differ from the norm has a social cost that many people overlook.

"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," stated Cooney in a recent press release.

"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."

However, in a later interview with Medical News Today, Cooney said:

We definitely don't want the takeaway to be that extraordinary experiences aren't worth having or talking about. The idea is that people don't naturally consider the social costs of having extraordinary experiences.

Sometimes the costs will outweigh the benefits. Sometimes the benefits will be worth the costs. But the social costs of extraordinary experiences are real, and we should be aware of them when making decisions.

For me, it comes down to this: What is your life at the end of the day, other than an accumulation of the many small moments and experiences you've lived through? Is it worth sitting out from extraordinary experiences if it can help you relate to other people? Or would you rather live in the moment and face potential dissonance with your peers later?

I'd rather have an extraordinary experience and be mildly distanced from the majority of my peers than be utterly bored and have something in common with everyone. But that's solely my personal opinion.

What do you think about the social costs of extraordinary experiences? Tell me in the comments section below!

Image by Danka Peter