Telling people about the vacation you just took is kind of like talking about a dream you had.
But there is some psychological research that suggests being selfish is worth it: Compared to just keeping quiet, talking about one’s experiences has been found to make people happier in both the short term and long term.
A lot of people, when they go on vacation, may assume the trip itself is where all the happiness lies. So long as the experiences are rich enough, the trip will be deemed a success. The truth is, people can draw out happiness from three phases of the vacation: the planning, the experiences, and the reminiscing.
Planning builds anticipation, which humans find satisfying. The trip itself delivers loads of new experiences, which we also find satisfying. And the third part, reflecting on the trip, helps make lasting memories we can enjoy for life.
It’s that third part on which Cornell University psychologists published a collection of eight studies in 2015. The findings largely showed people derived the most enjoyment from discussing experiences they had, as opposed to discussing things they bought — or not discussing anything at all.
The coauthors conclude: “Although our material goods ‘disappear’ through habituation,” that is, taking them for granted, “our experiential purchases live on in the memories we cherish and, as we have shown here, in the stories we tell.”
It seems to be the case that talking about experiences helps keep them “alive” in a certain sense. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman has discovered humans are composed of two psychologist selves: the experiencing self, who lives in the moment, and the remembering self, who looks back on life through memories.
Talking about vacations caters to the remembering self, because it offers more opportunities to look back fondly. On the flip side, if people don’t discuss their vacations, they risk abandoning the happy time to the fleeting realm of the experiencing self.
It also seems to be the case that negative experiences can be cemented as happier memories depending on the story people construct. If a gigantic thunderstorm rolls into town on your last day in Rome, the story you come to remember might be the wine you drank while watching the rain fall, or the days on the beach prior to the storm.
Just make sure you talk about it first.
“One way people come to feel better about negative experiences,” the researchers wrote, “is by putting them in the broader context of one’s life, which conversation facilitates.”