Laughter is contagious.
Years ago, I was standing at the front of a church leading a bride and groom through their vows on their wedding day. At some point, the bride started to laugh (was it at “for richer or poorer”? I don’t remember). Of course, the groom chuckled, I laughed, and the laughter spread to the congregation. We couldn’t help ourselves.
These thoughts came back to me as I read a recent article in the New York Times, “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing.” Contributor Adam Grant is referring to the joy of being in crowds; a joy we did not experience during the worst of the pandemic.
Grant found this joy at a concert with 15,000 other fans. The same kind of joy I saw in the crowd pressing around Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship. I talked about getting back together, in person, with my men’s group in one of my short “Hank’s Deep Thoughts” videos.
Here is a little of what Grant had to say about “Collective Effervescence”:
“Research has found that people laugh five times as often when they’re with others than when they’re alone. Even exchanging pleasantries with a stranger on a train is enough to spark joy.… Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.
“We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s…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.”
And I would add, it is the collective effervescence you feel while laughing with a congregation at a wedding…even though you don’t know what the bride thought was so funny.
During the lockdowns we discovered that, indeed, “peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.” You can binge watch comedy specials on TV, but it is nothing like physically being in a comedy club. Same goes for watching a movie at home versus joining others in a movie theater. Or participating in a Zoom church service as opposed to being in a room with your fellow worshippers.
Think about that — the content of each of these events is exactly the same: same jokes; same movie; same sermon and songs. Yet, experiencing them “together” makes a world of difference.
(The skeptic in me says crowds can be misled by false prophets or corrupt leaders. History — including current events — is replete with examples of these charlatans. Humor me and assume we are attending fun, positive, non-controversial events devoid of those who might lead us astray.)
When this pandemic has had its run, it will be a relief to finally be able to enjoy the best of an event with fellow humans by our side. To absorb each other’s energy. To do what we do best, by making a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our lives are not just enriched by the content we experience. Another key part is that “collective effervescence.”