In his excellent New York Times opinion piece on July 11, 2021, organizational psychologist Adam Grant discussed the influence of social interactions on our emotions. In his essay, “The Joy We’ve Been Missing,” Grant proposes that “peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.” He utilizes the concept of “collective effervescence” coined by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim to explain this phenomenon.
Grant writes that collective effervescence is “the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.” I certainly have felt this at a Bruce Springsteen concert when the entire audience is singing the words to “Hungry Heart” or at a rare Mets playoff game when everyone in the sold-out crowd is on their feet cheering for their beloved team. Unfortunately, this experience has been primarily missing during the COVID-19 pandemic with our social distancing and absence of sporting events, celebrations, concerts, and working together in the office.
Because we are social beings, the pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll. Many of my patients often complained about isolation and the lack of connection to others. They missed seeing their friends, families, colleagues, and even relative strangers they saw on the train. As a result, many of us felt depressed and anxious, or what Grant called “languishing.”
Languishing is a state of feeling “joyless and aimless” and seemed to be the chronic state for many during the past year. With people getting vaccinated and the loosening up of the restrictions in our country, we have begun to let go of our masks and social distancing and re-connect to others in our extended families, communities, and workplace. It feels much more normal. We are all feeling more hope and joy.
I could see myself going back to concerts, Mets games, making plans for vacations, and celebrating with friends. We’re returning to the office and are excited to make the shift from a virtual world to seeing everybody in person. Our Zoom office meetings often lacked the same energy and focus we had in our live meetings, so I am excited for the return of us all being together in the same space.
Very recently, I have begun to experience a new feeling. It seems like many of my friends, family, patients, and colleagues are, too. It’s the “I don’t know what to feel” feeling. On the one hand, things are returning to normal, but on the other hand, with the dreaded Delta variant, we are becoming a little more anxious and worried again.
It’s almost like we all have a bit of PTSD and are wondering if we’re headed back to the way things were a year ago. I remain cautiously optimistic that we can get back to where we all want to be, enjoying our favorite teams, attending concerts and Broadway shows, celebrating wonderful occasions with our families and friends, and having productive team meetings in the workplace.
It may take longer than we thought to finally feel like this is truly behind us. However, we need to stay hopeful and optimistic. Remember, emotions too are contagious—so let’s spread that around.
Dr. Richard Dauber is a founding partner of the Morris Psychological Group, P.A. and Director of Child and Adolescent Services. Dr. Dauber is a clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience. His practice includes cognitive-behavioral therapy of children, adolescents, and adults.