In early June, Robinia’s Courtyard saw its outdoor patio complete with local talent, families, friends, and its usual dancing crowd. This would be my first time attending a live musical performance in over a year. Not only that, this would be my first time attending any public event resembling pre-pandemic measures. Though I was certainly thrilled to be hearing music sans earphones, I realized my true motivation for attending came from a deeper source. Prior to the event, my friends and I joked that we were actually looking forward to being in a crowded space, drenched in sweat, alongside other drenched-in-sweat strangers. Unbecoming as this imagery foretells, like all good jokes, it contained some truth. Our desire to attend was an inadvertent attempt to fulfill a basic human need. I am referring to the sense of belonging and connection to the greater-group we all require. For most, this need was left overwhelmingly unfulfilled during the (don’t worry I won’t say “trying”) times of quarantine and social-distancing.
Upon entering this space, I was reminded of the specific kind of joy you feel when you participate in something larger than yourself. If you were there, you know what I am talking about. If you weren’t, you have experienced it yourself before. It’s the synchrony you effortlessly slip into when, for example, you cheer on your team with other fans and together you witness the winning shot in overtime, or when you sing at your place of worship and you feel transcendent as the room swells around you with divinity. You can substitute any situation in which you have felt what French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, has coined as ‘collective effervescence.’ In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, he best describes it as an event where social electricity is generated by collectivity, and thus, serves to unify the group. To understand its full applicability, Durkheim also explains how religion reflects society’s collective aspects and how every society can be called religious — for any society lacking collective ways of thinking and acting is not in fact a society. This is the best part of the theory, in my opinion, because it suggests that everyone, regardless of faith, has this need and should satisfy it when they can. Even people with agnostic tendencies like myself should admit that this religious thing is embedded in everyday life and connects us together in a meaningful way.
But why is this so important? Research shows that peak happiness comes primarily from collective activity, even for the introverts among us. Psychologists have even found that in cultures where people pursue happiness primarily at the personal level, they may actually be at risk of becoming lonelier. On the other hand, in cultures where they pursue happiness at the societal-level, people have a better chance of cultivating well-being. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I thought I was doing a good job at doing just that: pursuing happiness collectively. The issue was, I took these experiences for granted because I couldn’t know that for a large chunk of time, these moments would be hard to come by and painfully ephemeral when they presented themselves.
Going forward, in thinking about my own well-being practices and what truly builds me up, I will be making a conscious effort to both seek out and recognize the religious moments for what they are worth, and to me, it seems like they are worth a great deal. I implore all of us, when we are able, to allow our senses of self to slacken and to yield to the connection shared with our fellow humans. It is high time we accept that dependency is not a bad word, and the greatest thing about being human is that we are social creatures who need each other to thrive.