Every week, a Facebook friend would bombard social media feeds with videos of festivals abroad with captions like, “one more month till Tomorrowland” or “Can’t wait till next year for Burning Man!”
A certain jealousy will be elicited when one chances upon photos from friends’ trip, especially when one comes back with some kind of life-changing epiphany: “I had a spiritual experience in my week at Burning Man, I think I experienced God.” No, Sharon, you did not. You just took something that you would have otherwise not taken in Singapore.
Hallucinatory substances aside, why do overseas festivals sound more fun than similar events in Singapore?
Burning Man may very well be the epitome of all festivals. Set in the desert, attendees get to dress in the wildest get-up without anyone batting an eyelid. Any semblance of a rigid governmental system is non-existent as food and alcohol are given out freely by the community running the factions. There is even an orgy tent where everybody is skimpily dressed. Perhaps the lack of a rigid structure, free access to practically anything, and freedom of expression are reasons that make it so enjoyable.
Often, only the great parts of the event are shared, but what about the downsides? Forget about establishing any meaningful connections as festival-goers typically assume pseudo-identities complete with names like Rising Phoenix and made-up origin stories. Everything is a façade, and few things are real, almost like playing The Sims in the flesh.
Some have even reported that being at Burning Man sober seemed both dangerous and terrifying because everyone around them was under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs.
Turns out, the hyped-up Burning Man is not all rainbows and unicorns. Maybe festivals abroad and at home are not that different. One could look at this scientifically. Dr Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, explains, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.” Therefore, an event that promises the “hypest” experience here might not deliver, simply because we are already accustomed to Singapore. Our happiness will be instantly drained when we get out of the event venue as we are too familiar to home. Of course, the fault does not lie on Singapore; a foreigner attending a rave here would have a vastly different experience to share.
The heightened experience is probably due to companionship. Company is important, which is why people usually choose to travel with their closest friends, lovers, and family. The chance to spend an extended period of time with one’s favourite people creates a memorable unifying experience. We consume experiences directly with other people, and even after they are gone, they remain part of the stories that we tell. Shared experiences become part of one’s life and deepen one’s bond with others.
Lone wolves, on the other hand, derive joy from being pushed by growth and loneliness to do things they usually would not do. Imagine being alone in a country where the locals communicate in a different language; buying lunch becomes challenging and finding connections is arduous.
Then, loneliness starts to creep in, and one needs to decide if he should try to be more outgoing or remain a solitary introvert. It is always better to choose the former as stepping outside one’s comfort zone will lead to personal growth and unexpected experiences.
Having a good time does not necessarily involve substance abuse, debauchery, and freedom. Instead, one should reflect on the factors that make festivals abroad seem better than the ones at home. Once the source of happiness is found, then one can apply it at home. Till then, the festivities in Singapore will never be on par with Burning Man.