“What’s your favorite summer memory?”
I love asking people this question. As they think back to fond moments from summers past, their eyes light up and a smile sweeps across their face. “Fishing with my dad in the bay,” said one friend. “Biking to town with my friends,” said another.
While the details are unique, the memories almost always share two common threads: (1) being with loved ones and (2) being outside. For the record, nobody has ever told me that their most cherished summer memory was sitting alone on a sofa checking email or watching tv.
It is no surprise that spending time outdoors is a recurring theme. Studies suggest that nature makes us happier, calmer and nicer. It washes away the residue of everyday stress and restores a sense of vitality that is so easily lost in our indoor online lives.
Bearing witness to the majesty of nature—a jaw-dropping sunset, a gleaming full moon, an awe-inspiring thunderstorm, a magnificent eclipse, even stepping outside for an hour to catch the eclipse—amplifies a sense of wonder, connection, and transcendence. Nature does what no medication can do—it gets us out of our own heads.
What makes a beautiful sunset even more beautiful and memorable? You guessed it—watching it with someone else. The presence of others intensifies the moment and the memory.
Researchers have found that the act of sharing a beautiful or happy experience makes it even better. A s’more tastes good but it is even more delicious when eaten in the company of others. A bike ride is even more fun with a friend. Of note, for the “sharing effect” to take effect, everyone involved needs to be present and engaged in the same activity or paying attention to the same thing.
The following study from Yale University underscores just how much being present matters. Participants sat beside another person at a table and were told that they would be asked to engage in activities like eating chocolate and looking at art books. Both were given a chocolate to eat at the same time. Next, one person was given a chocolate while the second person leafed through a book. Of note, participants were led to believe that these chocolates were different from the chocolate sampled together, but all of the samples were actually taken from the same chocolate bar. The participants were then asked to rate the “different” chocolates. The chocolate eaten at the same time was rated as tasting much better than the one eaten while the other person was engaged with a book.
We assume that simply being with others is enough but, as this study shows, being present is what really counts. Researcher Erica Boothby explains:
“We text friends while at a party, check our Twitter feed while out to dinner, and play Sudoku while watching TV with family—without meaning to, we are unsharing experiences with the people around us. A pleasant experience that goes unshared is a missed opportunity to focus on the activity we and others are doing and give it a boost.”
Don’t be the one to “unshare” a beautiful moment. Make the most of the end of summer by spending time outdoors with friends and family. Leave your phone in your pocket or, better yet, at home. Let your memories be of real moments, not Instagram ones.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman