Dancing at Zumba a few weeks ago, I found myself in a flow state. It felt like a miracle, after months of stumbling around and trying to follow the moves, not even being able to finish a class without leaving early. (Who knew Zumba was so intense?!) It’s humbling to be a beginner. But I was inspired by this room full of women (much older than I am) who were keeping up and rocking it out, stomping their feet and letting out whoops of joy.
But this flow I found was different. It wasn’t just a place of focused attention or presence, it was also a kind of joy I’m not sure I’ve experienced in a long time. It was exhilarating. It felt like flying. It was like being a surfer and riding a wave – a sustained joy so deep and so high that I thought I would burst. And I felt it in communion with the other dancers. It was not separate from them. In fact, it couldn’t have happened without them.
I ran up to the teacher, who is also a friend of mine, after class. “That was collective effervescence!!” I said with glee. “Yes!” She replied. “It doesn’t happen every time, but I felt it today too. It was so good!”
Until that moment, I hadn’t realized it wasn’t just my experience alone, but something that existed in the collective. It was something we all felt together.
Have you ever had an experience of collective effervescence?
There is a great article in the New York Times written by Adam Grant. He explains collective effervescence this way:
We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe 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.
Collective effervescence happens when joie de vivre spreads through a group. Before Covid, research showed that more than three-quarters of people found collective effervescence at least once a week and almost a third experienced it at least once a day. They felt it when they sang in choruses and ran in races, and in quieter moments of connection at coffee shops and in yoga classes.
As we are emerging (somewhat) here in Berkeley, every moment of connection feels so potent. Hugging my friend Annie after two years, sitting in a movie theater with my boys recently (okay, it was empty, but still!) wandering the streets in San Francisco and people watching. None of it is lost on me.
As I write this, I’m seated at an outdoor cafe. It’s crowded and people are sipping their iced mochas, tapping away at their laptops and chatting with each other. I feel that joy bubbling up again – a collective experience of buoyancy. The thrill of simply being together.