The Power of Shared Experiences

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Christopher McCandless had just realized he ate the wrong berries. Frantically flipping through the pages of the book he used for reference, he notices the pattern on the berry, which he fatally misinterpreted. McCandless had been living in a bus deep in the outback of the Alaskan Wilderness all winter. Against many odds, he survived and was waiting for the water levels in a nearby river to recede so he could safely cross and make his journey out of the wilderness. After graduating from college, McCandless took off on what would become a world famous adventure, exploring the world on his own and ultimately dying in isolation. Into The Wild, the best selling novel by Jon Krakauer, turned into a hit movie, shared with the world some of Christopher’s poignant last thoughts: “Happiness only real when shared”. Despite the incredible journey he had, his strict commitment to his lifestyle, his dedication to his passion and purpose of isolated travel, in some of his last moments, Christopher McCandless realized, he wished he had someone there with him.

Our best experiences, or happiest experiences, are the ones that are shared. The Atlantic wrote about a study published in Psychological Science in which the researchers at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory found “…that unusual experiences have a social cost, in that they alienate us from our peers.” The study separated a group of participants into two sections. Some of the participants watched an “ordinary” video together and conversed. Others watched an “extraordinary” video alone. Participants who watched in isolation felt excluded and left out. Participants who had a shared experience had less feelings of feeling ‘worse’ than those with the extraordinary experience. Interestingly, when researchers asked participants how they thought they would feel, all participants expected the extraordinary experience to make them feel better. Isolated experiences are novel and unique. Often they are life changing. However, the human experience necessitates socialization. We are social beings. Whatever we experience on our own pales in importance to feeling connected to our peers.

When we are struggling in our respective addictions, we feel alone. Addiction is notorious for being an isolating experience. When we are confronted to seek recovery and create sobriety, many of us default to, “I can do it by myself” and we do try. It is only by coming to the realization that we need help, which really translates to, “I cannot do this alone, I need to do this with others” that our recovery begins to manifest. As we recover, by going to a treatment program, we are surrounded by others who have walked the path before us and are walking the path with us. We learn to share our experiences with them. Hiking together, camping together, working out together, processing our life story through therapy together we learn a critical rule for creating sustainable sobriety in our lives: we’re not alone.


Tree House Recovery is Portland’s men’s addiction treatment program, teaching men how to be free from addiction by cultivating a culture of an adventure lifestyle discipline. For information on our long term programs for sustainable change, call us today: (503) 850-2474

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