Crowded happiness

“Selfie” may have been designated the Oxford Dictionary’s word for 2013, just beating “twerk”, but surely “crowd” can’t have been too far behind. It’s not just because we hit 7 billion people on the planet this year either, it is because concepts like “crowd-funding” and “crowd-sourcing” are gaining such currency. Perhaps these notions are gaining traction because there is a sense that we are part of a crowd now and there is no avoiding it. The sheer number of us on the planet make it obvious and social media technology makes it possible. So how does being part of a crowd impact on your happiness? According to a new study the answer to that is…it depends on which “you” we are talking about.

To study how being in a crowd affects happiness researchers conducted two experiments. The first took place at a an event called The Big Beach Boutique where around 250,000 people attended and each crowd member averaged 0.5 square metres of space. The second experiment was done at a march organised to protest against changes in the UK’s National Health Service. Around 7,000 people attended and each person had an average of 0.3 square metres.

At each event the researchers gathered attendees and gave them questionnaires that identified whether they were feeling too crowded at these events, their social identification with other members of the crowd, and whether they felt any positive emotions.

The results showed that those people who identified themselves as “feeling part of a crowd” were less likely to report feeling too crowded. The more that people said they felt “crowded” the less likely they were to report happiness or other positive emotions.

According to the researchers this can explain why a crowd can look hideous if you are looking at it but can be less unpleasant if you are in it. The researchers also say that this challenges the idea that we have a fixed need for a certain amount of personal space. This idea of a fixed “personal space” need misses the point that humans can have multiple personalities. These researchers say they have found that your personal identity varies according to your social context and that when you share a space with people that you also share a social identity with then their presence does not invade your personal space at all. Essentially, those people you identify with become you and your personal shrinks accordingly.

It all means of course that you are not one fixed person at all but have a range of personal identities depending on where you feel at home socially. All of which is very disturbing news for anyone has felt a sense of belonging at a One Direction concert.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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