Creativity and determination were applied to create a “best night of my life” moment.
In the night, in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, Vancouver Canada, I crept up on the patio of a stranger. I knocked on their door.
At another house, I pressed the buzzer. Three times.
Yet another, I went into their backyard.
One party scientist wearing a hazmat suit, on a mission to spread love, hope, and laughs.
It was uncomfortable. It was intrusive. It was controversial. But I knew that my efforts were rooted in good intentions. I knew that the people living in the house would appreciate the surprise me and my 7 close friends had in store for them. We had been rehearsing.
Welcome to Halloween in a pandemic.
This year, my creativity was tested. My co-founders and I, all party scientists and thrill-seekers at heart, asked ourselves: How can we bring the good vibes to the city while following public health guidelines?
In Vancouver, there is a limit of 6 people you can have in your household. So there were no house parties planned. Given the restrictions, Halloween was pretty much cancelled. A normal person would have accepted this and put on a spooky movie in the safety of their own home.
My squad, on the other hand, we had different plans.
After pondering the question for some time, one of my co-founders had the golden idea.
We rented a mini-van, got 6 of our best friends dressed in hazmat suits and masks, and we hit the road. It was time to distribute some love letters while performing a very special dance for unsuspecting families.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We called it the reverse trick or treat!
We met at WeWork, adorned our hazmat suits, and wrote the love letters. I picked up the minivan, and we all jumped in, singing songs on the way to the first (random) neighbourhood.
I went to the decorated house, knocked on the door, and pressed play on Thriller. Meanwhile, all my friends jumped out of the mini van and launched themselves onto the street, face down, dead, like zombies. Then, we slowly twitched upward and thrilled our observers.
Five houses later, our mission was accomplished. A 100% success rate. Everyone we handed a love letter to was filled with hope. People were doing the thriller with us from their balconies. Someone gifted us a box of chocolates. A group of teenagers joined our dance and sang with us in the street.
Our success illustrated a few realities of being human.
First, we exaggerate the risk of socially edgy activities.
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.” What this means is that when humans are thinking, they exaggerate the importance of what they’re thinking about. This is called the focusing illusion. When we think of uncommon social behaviours, we exaggerate the potential negative consequences in our minds. We make it a big deal in our minds. We think about all the people we can piss off. We exaggerate the consequences of pissing people off. We fret.
Humans have a negativity or ‘haters’ bias. We’re plagued with the tendency to pay attention to the one critic instead of the ten praisers. This bias, complimented by the focussing illusion, explains why I am likely the only person on Earth to assemble my friends in a minivan and perform the thriller in front of strangers in random neighbourhoods.
What I have realized in my years of igniting impromptu dance parties across the planet, in often inappropriate places, is that the negative consequences are often less likely and less severe than I thought. This realization has led to some of the greatest achievements of my life. By consciously disentangling the risks of social stunts (like talking to a stranger or dancing in public), I have become invincible to analysis paralysis.
Somehow I have never been fined for starting very loud singalongs at 2AM…
Second, there is an inherent fear of being ostracized to human psychology.
Why do humans follow social norms? Why are 50% of people very slow in adopting new technology and ideas (according to the diffusion of innovation theory)? Why are we so afraid of rejection?
Genetic coding. Humans are genetically engineered to fit in because isolation is a threat to survival. In the savannahs of Africa, being deserted by the tribe meant certain death. And so, the fear of being ostracized was an adaptation to avoid that. But it is no longer healthy to operate based on this fear.
We certainly didn’t when we went out into the streets, grabbing our crotches, blurting ‘heeeeheeee.’
I argue that it’s actually healthy to step outside conventional social norms. Why? Because they have been engineered by advertisers and capitalists. In my article about toxic social norms, I explain why social norms are like cigarettes. If you take your happiness seriously, you MUST deprogram yourself socially.
So, it’s necessary to break free from the fear of being ostracized and practice authentic expression. To do this, we must stop showing off and obsessing over what people think of you. These behaviors prevent us from having fun in new ways and are characteristic of ‘status anxiety.’ This is a cause of depression, according to Johann Hari.
Third, the best moments in life involve shared risk-taking.
We cannot deny that there was a risk in travelling through the night, playing loud music and dancing… During a pandemic. People could have thrown stuff at us. People could have rejected our offer.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: ‘Fun and danger are on the same wavelength.’ Replace danger with challenge, if you are more risk-averse. When the stakes are higher, people’s emotions are higher. And when an eventual success is declared, the celebration is more intense too.
This is exactly what happened last night. We didn’t know what would happen. There was the possibility of failure. We could have gotten into trouble for jumping out of our minivan in the middle of the street. But, when we didn’t, it exhilarated us. When a young boy finally emerged from his house after the 5th buzzer ring and said he’d watch our thriller, we were ecstatic.
The ‘shared’ element is super important. Humans bounce emotions off each other. We are naturally emotionally-sensitive creatures. When suspense is experienced by a group, it’s more intense than suspense experienced by an individual. When a challenge or threat is overcome by a group, the celebration is louder and rowdier, because of the amplification of emotions that happens when humans synchronize.
So. What to do?
Stop being run by social norms, your body-guard-like thinking tendency, and the idea that you are stronger if you can do it alone.
Go out and set your individualistic ego on fire. And make the fire bigger by bringing friends.