Collective Effervescence

A few months ago I was struck by a guest essay in the New York Times about languishing. An emotion we were feeling collectively as a culture that we didn’t quite have a name for it. Adam Grant defined it as Languishing – not quite depression, but also not happiness or joy.

This past weekend a Catholic leader shared another guest essay from Adam Grant about the other side of languishing: Collective Effervescence. It struck me because she shared it with this lead in:

This NYTimes essay on collective effervescence explains why everyone at our church is singing so loudly now—and why I can’t stop grinning when I hear it.

Laura Kelly Fanucci

The first weekend my new parish was back was the weekend of Pentecost, May 23rd. It’s the first time I heard the choir and while I was still masked, my heart sang out even louder than my voice. We’d been singing for a while but with only a cantor leading us (who is absolutely fantastic – but a cantor and a choir are a different experience).

After Mass I walked up to my pastor and said, “I just had to talk to you after Mass today about the choir.” I think he was ready for a criticism – but instead I said, “I was so delighted. It made my heart so happy!”

I even emailed the Music Director to tell her about how fantastic her choir was at Mass – they then began their summer break, but I’m looking forward to the fall when they’re back!

Now I know what that emotion that I experienced is called: Collective Effervescence.

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.

Adam Grant

We feed off the emotions of those who are around us. We know the phrase, “Misery loves company.” Years ago at my former parish we began learning the Gloria in Latin to sing at Sunday Masses. As you can probably imagine there was a lot of pushback. Parishioners would get together to complain about how “they didn’t know the language” or “now I don’t even know what I’m praying.” They fed off one another and these gatherings in the courtyard after Mass would become groups who found an identity in complaining rather than their shared faith. At times I’d be invited to join and commiserate but because of who I am (and my position as Office Manager), I would shut the complaining down with one sentence: “Oh yes, isn’t it beautiful? I love exploring a new tradition, and the cantor is so talented.”

I was kind of a wet blanket. To be honest I hate when that happens when I’m on a complaining spree – but I know it’s necessary. I need someone to change the course of the conversation to redirect me to something that’s productive and helpful. To something that’s more like Effervescence than Languishing. It’s such a nicer emotion!

What will you do to foster Collective Effervescence?

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