Adam Grant, There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing, NYTimes, July 10, 2021.
Most people view emotions as existing primarily or even exclusively in their heads. Happiness is considered a state of mind; melancholy is a potential warning sign of mental illness. But the reality is that emotions are inherently social: They’re woven through our interactions.
Research has found that people laugh five times as often when they’re with others as when they’re alone. Even exchanging pleasantries with a stranger on a train is enough to spark joy. That’s not to say you can’t find delight in watching a show on Netflix. The problem is that bingeing is an individual pastime. Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.
We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. Collective effervescence is the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service or teammates on a soccer field. And during this pandemic, it’s been largely absent from our lives.
Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.
Collective effervescence happens when joie de vivre spreads through a group. Before Covid, research showed that more than three-quarters of people found collective effervescence at least once a week and almost a third experienced it at least once a day. They felt it when they sang in choruses and ran in races, and in quieter moments of connection at coffee shops and in yoga classes.
But as lockdowns and social distancing became the norm, there were fewer and fewer of these moments. I started watching standup comedy specials, hoping to get a taste of collective effervescence while laughing along with the people in the room. It was fine, but it wasn’t the same.
Instead, many of us found ourselves drawn into a dark cloud. [...]
Emotional contagion can in part explain so-called Zoom fatigue, a phenomenon that has mostly been attributed to sitting still, staring at oversize virtual heads, feeling self-conscious at seeing your own reflection and juggling the cognitive load of reading glitchy facial expressions. The science of contagion suggests that the negative emotions we feel from video-call overuse could be partially driven by hours of communicating with people who are also sad, stressed, lonely or tired. (How to survive a Zoombie apocalypse: Avoid eye contact at all costs.) [...]
The Declaration of Independence promised Americans unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we want that pursuit to bring us bliss, it may be time to create a Declaration of Interdependence. You can feel depressed and anxious alone, but it’s rare to laugh alone or love alone. Joy shared is joy sustained.
There's more at the link.