Have you ever bought a new pair of running shoes or running outfit in the hopes that motivates you to run more? I mean, it sounds like a good idea: you buy something new, you want to use and in order to derive joy from your new purchase, right?
I know I love that springy, bouncy feeling of running in brand-new shoes, or pulling on those perfect-fitting, stylish, un-pilled tights for the first time.
But I’ve also found that the new shoes’ initial motivation boost faded away all too quickly. By the third run, those new running shoes don’t feel super bouncy and those new tights fit just like all my other running tights.
It’s not long before those new purchases aren’t enough to persuade me get up early to run on a cold, dark morning.
So let’s admit it: we all buy things in the hope we feel better in some way. And that’s OK, as long as we realize that it doesn’t really work.
The problem, say researchers, is the rate at which we habituate to material purchases. Regardless of whether you paid $20 or $2,000 for that thing, its perceived newness just doesn’t last long.
So I’m not saying don’t buy those new running shoes—you’re going to need them!—but if what you’re really after is to feel differently or better, then you’re better off buying experiences.
When you buy an experience like a workshop, a vacation or even a concert, the happy feelings it gives you last much longer.
Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, who has been studying this phenomenon for years, has uncovered three key reasons why experiences are more fulfilling and provide longer-lasting happiness. These are:
- Experiential purchases enhance social relations more effectively than material goods
- Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity
- Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.
And what’s also interesting, according to Gilovich, is how these memorable experiences become our biography.
“In a very real and meaningful sense, we are the sum total of our experiences,” says Gilovich. “Sharing something more central to the self is certain to produce a greater feeling of kinship and connection than sharing something more peripheral.”
What Gilovich is saying is that it’s one thing to do an activity, but something else to really open yourself up to sharing that experience with others. And that’s why a running retreat can be so powerful. It provides an opportunity to run and explore in a new place with people you don’t know, but to whom you have a shared love of running and travel.
In 2014, Yale University’s Erica Boothby sought to understand why sharing experiences with at least on other person made the experience so much more impactful and in some cases, transformative. The results of her research, published in the journal Psychological Science, zeroed in on several reasons why this occurs, in particular, the connection between people that arises during a shared experience like running.
The thing is, whether we realize it or not, we’re all craving human connection every day. Yep, even we self-proclaimed “introverts” need to connect.
Connection is a known way to relieve stress and is an essential ingredient for true happiness.
And the cool thing is that even time you spend running alongside someone without saying a word amplifies the experience. Boothby and other researchers says this silent sharing works because it focuses your attention, making you more attuned to what you are sensing and perceiving.
“When people think of shared experience, what usually comes to mind is being with close others, such as friends or family and talking with them,” says Boothby. “We don’t realize the extent to which we are influenced by people around us whom we don’t know and aren’t even communicating with.”
If your running is in a slump and you’re looking for a way to regain the mojo and you find yourself browsing the clothing racks at your local running store, go ahead and buy that cute running jacket. But while you’re there, check out opportunities to run with someone; whether it’s a friend, a workshop, a run club or a running retreat.
Running with others does a lot more than hold you accountable; it can actually amplify your enjoyment of running in ways that make the experience more memorable, meaningful, relaxing and good for your health and well being.