The Basic Human Need We Have Been Missing – Alisha Jones

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.

10 thoughts on “The Basic Human Need We Have Been Missing – Alisha Jones”

  1. I think the studies that you mentioned are very interesting. As mandates have relaxed and I have made more time for socializing, I do feel a lot happier. I think the last sentence is especially powerful. There is a stigma around asking for help and I am glad that this post addresses it.

  2. That Durkheim text brings me back to a sociology classics course I took last fall, during the peak of pandemic isolation. It is so nice to finally begin to experience the collectivity that he focuses on again, and I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph – I, too, a making an effort not to take the feeling for granted!

  3. Alisha

    I love your discussion of how pursuing happiness at a personal level may only lead to further isolation and feelings of loneliness. I think we can all relate to that, to varying extents, after the past year and more. As an introvert and concert lover myself, I feel like you pretty perfectly summarized the religious, or spiritual, aspects of participating in something larger than yourself. A sense of community and of belonging is very powerful. I had never heard of “collective effervescence” until now, but I will definitely be looking into it now!

  4. This was very nicely written and I really like how you ended it as well. The studies that you mentioned are very interesting and I hope that very soon we can attend events and be in groups without any worry. I agree that it is a basic human need and it makes me feel better personally when interacting with a group more often. I’m excited for more dialogue on these topics as well and look forward to it!

  5. I love that you bring up this loss we were all feeling during the last year or so as we social distanced. One of the biggest events I missed was Blackhawk church in Madison’s student service where we are all stuffed shoulder to shoulder like sardines and have a giant prayer service together. This is basically just a whole bunch of students singing at the top of their lungs and its one of my favorite traditions I’ve picked up since being a student. This ties into the sense of community and belonging that we didn’t get during that year. I love the point you bring up from the sociologist’s perspective, and will definitely be seeking that book out and adding it to my list.

    Thanks for the awesome journal!

  6. Alisha,
    I really can connect with the idea of feeling some sort of divinity at events like these. I went to an immersive Van Goh exhibit in Chicago this past summer and it was the first time I had been in a shared space with so many people in while. We had all gathered there together as strangers to enjoy some art, and my friends and I felt exactly what you’re explaining, an overwhelming feeling of something, the term ‘collective effervescence’ perfectly fits.
    Lovely post!

  7. This blog post comes at a really cool time for me. I just ended the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which is pretty much all about being happy with your community. I completely agree that you need others around you to feel totally happy and fulfilled.

  8. Hi Alisha, I resonated so much with what you have written. At most of our Hindu ceremonies and at our Sunday school assemblies, we start off with three collective “aum (om)”s. Each “aum” reverberates around the room and you can feel it vibrate in your heart. A beautiful feeling that is possible through the power of community gathering. I relate to missing community gatherings during this pandemic. I am glad to see these opportunities to gather slowly phase back in. Thank you for a great read!

  9. Hi Alisha! I really enjoyed reading your blog post! Like many of us, I definitely took all the fun pre covid in person gatherings for granted. The pandemic has helped me learn to value every moment I am with my different communities, whether it is my family, my friends, or my Sikh ‘sangat’. The idea of ‘sangat’, which essentially means the congregation of Sikhs meditating, singing prayers, and learning from the Guru Granth Sahib’s teachings as one unified community, is an important aspect of Sikhism. And, I don’t think I really understood the power of belonging to a community as well as a sangat until the start of college and the pandemic. I will also try to seek out and appreciate all the moments I have with my different communities, now that we’re seeing more in person events!

  10. Hi Alisha, I found your thoughts on what religion is to be really interesting. I’ve thought before about the similarities between religion and science or language, with all three being necessarily defined by their basis in a community. Your take on religion works especially well with this view because just as language is formed and given meaning by all the people who speak it, and science is most valuable when it’s subject to a communal, peer review process, so too is religion shaped by the needs of a society and, as you pointed out, best able to help us when it’s done with others.

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