By Samantha Boardman, M.D.
What’s your favorite summer memory? I love asking people this question because when they think back on summers gone by, 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 features: being outside and being with loved ones. No one’s most cherished summer memory was sitting alone inside on a sofa checking email.
It’s no surprise that spending time outdoors comes up over and over again. Studies suggest that nature washes away the residue of everyday stress and makes us happier and calmer. It does what no medication can do—it gets us out of our own heads. In a Yale University study, researchers found that the act of sharing a beautiful or happy experience makes it even better. S’mores always taste good, but they’re even more delicious when eaten in the company of others. A bike ride is more fun when with a friend. But for the “sharing effect” to kick in, everyone involved needs to be present—not just physically, but emotionally—and engaged in the same activity.
In the study, participants were asked to eat one chocolate at the same time as another person and a second chocolate while the other person looked at a book. They were told that the chocolates were different, but the samples were actually taken from the same bar. The chocolate eaten simultaneously with the other person was rated as tasting much better than the other one. We often assume that simply being with others is enough but being present is what really counts. “We text friends while at a party, check our Twitter feed while out to dinner, and play Sudoku while watching TV with family,” Erica Boothby, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the study, told the Association for Psychological Science. “Without meaning to, we are ‘unsharing’ experiences with the people around us.” 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.
Samantha Boardman, MD, is the founder of the wellness site positiveprescription.com.