Every year, my mother and I meet up for an ad hoc Oktoberfest. We find a restaurant with big beers, Thuringer sausages, and sauerkraut. We toast, sing songs, and tell stories. And while I know both of us would attest that this one-night ritual makes us happier all year long, it’s still nice to finally have the scientific proof.
Because according to new research from Washington State University, published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, people who celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich report an increased life satisfaction from the experience. And while lederhosen, Wiener schnitzel, and flying to Germany might not be your thing, know that this benefit is by no means restricted to Oktoberfest itself.
“Oktoberfest is one of what I would call ‘crucial events’ that are tied to improving quality of life perceptions when they are perceived as unique, provide memories for attendees, and allow us to feel good about our lives and experiences,” says Robert Harrington, professor and director of the School of Hospitality Management at Washington State University, who was lead author on the paper. And taking part in any sort of crucial event can give you memories that make you happier long into the future.
So what’s a crucial event, exactly? That’s a largely subjective idea. For me, it’s Oktoberfest, and connecting to a small piece of my ancestry. For you, it might be a best friend’s wedding, a music festival such as Coachella, or one of all sorts of other activities that live on your bucket list. What really matters is that they should be both memorable and likely to create strong emotions.
In the study, Harrington’s team visited Oktoberfest tents and had 820 attendees fill out a detailed questionnaire. They answered questions about the quality of the food and drink, how connected they felt to the event, and how unique the experience was. They were also asked about their general life satisfaction—a broad and tricky topic to investigate, for sure.
What the polling discovered was that when people felt connected (Oktoberfest is a shared, public experience) and they felt the experience was different from day-to-day life (Oktoberfest is full of rituals, such as songs and toasts, specific to the celebration), people reported strong life satisfaction. And that satisfaction didn’t simply wear off when the music ended and the buzz wore off. “We can infer a longer-term impact that does not dissipate quickly,” says Harrington.
As vaccines allow us to reopen our world out of COVID-19, Harrington believes that businesses can do a lot to capitalize on the link between unique experience and our long-term satisfaction by creating limited-time pop-ups, such as all the Instagrammable events that were so popular pre-pandemic. If your company wants to create an Oktoberfest-like effect for its audience, he outlines a few criteria to keep in mind.
First, figure out how to actually create an activity that’s less transactional and more interactive. Second, build an experience that’s differentiated from your normal business, with unique and wow-worthy elements (aka something memorable). Finally, get guests to reflect on their experience, during or after the event. This, too, will help them remember it for a long time to come.
As for the rest of us—we simple consumers, who are sitting on our couches in sweats chewing on the 100th loaf of banana bread, wondering if it will even be worth the effort and cost of going out again—know that there’s real, emotional value in going out and letting loose in late 2021 and 2022.
“I believe and hope the roaring 20s analogy is correct,” says Harrington. “Most of us have pent-up demand for experiences. And because we have been limited for quite some time, we will likely be even more impacted by these experiences as they unfold, and appreciate their impact on our quality of life.”