The “We” of Joy

We may find many things on our own.  Happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, gratification, leisure, etc. are all attainable through individual experiences alone or in private.  

Not so with joy.  True joy is a corporate experience.  It can only be found in the context of a group that shares an experience together.  

A recent New York Times article by Psychologist Adam Grant has a different term for the same concept and how it has fared recently:

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.

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.  (SEE FULL ARTICLE with NYT subscription)

Another feature of joy: it never gains ground at the expense of someone’s dignity or humanity.  An ill-willed group may find great corporate delight in a demeaning slur intended to insult someone.  But that’s not joy.  Joy always lifts up the human spirit and affirms what is good and right in society.

I was sitting in the Starbucks in the Germantown Town Center a few weeks ago with just two other guests at tables nearby.  I was reading; the others were similarly buried in study.  I coughed.  From out of nowhere, I heard a very faint “bless you.”  It was so faint I didn’t even initially make the association with my cough.  I looked at the other guests and they too looked puzzled: no one knew from whence came this tiny affirmation or if it was even offered to me.  Until we all looked back over the counter a distance away and there was one of the baristas sheepishly looking at me, smiling, clearly the one who had uttered these words from her perch behind the cash register.  The other guests and I looked at her, and each other, and smiled.  Joy.

The writer goes on to impress upon the reader our need for this “collective effervescence” no matter what restrictions this new surge brings.  

The return to normalcy in the United States, or something like it, is a time to rethink our understanding of mental health and well-being. We should think of flourishing less as personal euphoria and more as collective effervescence. Happiness lives in the kinds of moments that we celebrated in the early days of Covid, when people found solidarity singing together out their windows in Italy, using dish soap to turn their kitchen floors into treadmills in Brazil, and clapping and banging pots with spoons to honor essential workers around the world. It was reborn in New York City when more than 15,000 strangers heard Dave Chappelle sing, “I don’t belong here,” and they all felt they belonged there.

If you haven’t experienced this feeling in a while, well, that’s what we specialize in; it’s one of the key goals of our Gatherings at GGC.  Join us on Sept. 25 to experience it yourself.  (DETAILS HERE)

The French philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”  

May you find joy in this pandemic.

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