The date 23 August is going to be remembered as a historic day, when the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-3 made a soft landing on the Moon’s south pole. India became the first country to do so. As Indians and people from across the globe watched the live broadcast of the Chandrayaan-3 mission with bated breath, the moments leading up to it were filled with nervous energy, pride, anticipation and a feeling that we were going to collectively witness a historic event. As the landing happened, what we all experienced can be best described as “collective effervescence”.
This is a term which was given by French sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe moments in time and history where a group of people, community or society all come together collectively to witness or experience an event that brings them together and evokes a common emotion.
The Chandrayaan landing felt just like that, there was high energy as we anticipated the event—a sense of unity and togetherness experienced by not just the nation but the entire world as it came together to witness the moment. This was followed by a sense of joy, heightened energy, pride, a feeling of community. It felt like a momentous occasion where we experienced a feeling of awe, expansiveness and togetherness. As I heard from clients and friends, people talked about how they were in tears, others described how it evoked a sense of oneness and belonging. What lies at the heart of collective effervescence and what I experienced for myself was that on 23 August evening, it felt as if we were all unified by the success of a shared purpose and goal and there was a feeling that we were part of something larger, a collective. A beautiful moment of togetherness and celebration where the sense of community and joy could be felt by each one of us.
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Think about it—music concerts, prayers, religious rituals, sport events, even conferences and protests seem to evoke this state, where the collective energy and a common focus binds people and produces a state which is associated with positive emotion and transcendence. From a tradition standpoint, processions during festivals, carol singing, capture this emotion and bring the entire community together. Given that we are spending a large part of our time online and beginning to lead very individual lives, these experiences allow for a collective gathering, and, hence, a sense of belonging. In the last few years, due to the lockdown and pandemic, we felt isolated, disconnected, with the possibilities for moments of collective effervescence diminished. It was a time where we craved such moments.
What the science of collective effervescence tells us is that there is merit in mindfully building these experiences in our lives and savouring them as they happen. These moments of collective effervescence add to our emotional well-being, allow us to feel a sense of connectedness and harmony—it feels that we are in sync with everyone else. At a time where there is a need to capture everything on our phones, sometimes these moments that need to be felt, experienced are missed as we fall into the trap of capturing them on the phone, rather than witnessing and allowing a sense of harmony and togetherness to sink in. Children often talk about how their school plays, sports practice allow for this experience; adults, on the other hand, struggle when it comes to thinking about these moments. Maybe this is a reminder that we need to savour these events that allow for a sense of awe, feeling of oneness and joy.
Our sense of vitality and capacity to experience shared joy is deeply linked to these experiences of collective effervescence.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.
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