The joy of being part of something bigger

That sinking feeling of being alone in a crowded room isn’t a great one, is it? Although I hope it’s not something you experience too often, it really isn’t unusual to feel this way, especially if your mood has taken a nose-dive.

For me it’s something I particularly encounter if I’m going through an occasional rough patch and am in the company of others, especially at some kind of social gathering involving friends or family.

You’re with people you love, supposedly on an occasion when everyone’s in high spirits and having fun, yet you feel completely detached from your surroundings, watching the proceedings as though through the kind of thick bullet-proof glass you’d expect a bank teller to sit behind.

I’ve been there. Perhaps you have too?

The paradox is that psychologists remind us that one great way out of depression (and a shield against it in the first place) is trying to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

By this they’re generally saying that those who feel they live a life of meaning tend to enjoy better emotional health than those who don’t. I think they’d say such meaning might come through a religious belief, say, or being a parent, or doing a job which feels purposeful and meaningful.

But I’m pretty sure they’d also agree that it’s possible to feel part of something bigger when you’re around others – but only, of course, if you feel connected when you do so.

Every year in the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s an event called Maker Faire which was started by a magazine I’ve always loved: ‘Make’. The magazine is about building cool stuff like robots, machines and – for example – marshmallow cannons, and Maker Faire is a giant show celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset.

Having always wanted to attend, it wasn’t exactly hard to persuade myself to visit the other Sunday and to say I wasn’t disappointed would be the understatement of all time.

Among a bewildering assortment of mind candy I adored the duelling remote controlled drones. I loved watching kids sitting cross-legged on the floor as they were helped to take apart technology, breaking open old digital cameras – prising the guts out of redundant computer hard drives to see what was hidden inside. I marvelled at a steam-driven printing press from the early 19th century, actually working. I lapped up a whole area given over to high school kids building robots that were battling rivals.

I felt energised by people’s unabashed enthusiasm and enterprise. I felt recharged and – yes – although I was there alone, I felt part of something bigger.

Heading off to some kind of big event like this when your spirits are low can be a calculated risk of course, but there’s no denying that it can sometimes make a big difference. Perhaps the trick is to ensure that if possible its theme is something you’ll find inspiring so you’ll be surrounded by like-minded others, even if you don’t necessarily connect to them.

So where might you go, then? And when?

11 thoughts on “The joy of being part of something bigger

  1. Fantastic to see you back – please could you leave a tip for the day. They really helped me to focus and have me a positive push x

  2. Fantastic to see you back. Please could you leave a tip for the day. They really helped me focus and gave me a positive push for the day x

  3. Agreed, Jon. Spot on piece. I have been there ( not the Maker Faire, unfortunately!) but in the crowded room… So I found this piece very helpful as a reminder of what to try. Because when my mood is low, I find creative thought excessively hard. A kick start approach would therefore go a long way to maybe reconnecting with people and situations I otherwise have no trouble with. Thanks!

  4. Great to have your e mails back Jon – if I might say so much better than the e mails that accompany moodscope these days.

    Keep up the good work and hope you are enjoying your new enviroment 🙂

  5. Alone in a crowd feels like being outside looking through a window watching what others are doing as you don’t always hear the conversation.
    Going to an event is good as you’re all strangers together and it can have the bonus of bumping into someone you know the pitful for me however is the tendency to buy – not a good thing when money is short , and you’ve already got more craft stuff than you can use with no where to put it. So unless I can be very strict with myself it puts added pressure on and takes away the joy of being part of the crowd.

  6. I also have had this experience which can be very uncomfortable but alternatively isolating yourself away from company doesn’t help either. Tapping into other’s enthusiasm is infectious and can work on a much smaller scale than the amazing faire Jon describes.

    I often work at home alone which is fine most of the time but on a grey day will find myself deflecting outside contact. I find that I need to prise myself out even if it is only down to the local shops to buy a paper or loaf of bread and that the small interaction of talking to a shop assistant can make a positive difference and lift my mood.

    Connecting with others is vital and if I got to see a marshmallow cannon I’d definitely be smiling!

  7. So good to hear from Jon again! I was unsettled and disappointed when his Moodscope reflections ended, it felt like losing a friend. And now I’m excited to pick up again and find out how life is looking from California. My curiosity in this regard helps fuel a sense of optimism for the day – and that feeling of connection. Thank you from a British reader.

  8. So good to have you back Jon. As always you hit the spot!
    It’s true if you can get out and about and involved its a sure fire way for me to lift me up. Puts everything back in perspective

  9. I have had two experiences walking into situations where I instantly felt great warmth,, and that I was among like-minded people: the annual meeting of the Pacific Crest Trail Association in Portland, Oregon, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, Oregon. Very powerful feelings.

  10. So good to hear from you again, Jon!

    I recently went to a sifi convention , my first ever, and I had such a wonderful time. It really was worth overcoming my nerves about going there alone and thinking I’d be the only older person in a roomful of young trendy nerds. (Is that a contradiction in terms?)

  11. I used to be suggested this blog through my cousin. I’m not certain whether
    or not this post is written by way of him as no one else recognise such distinct
    about my problem. You’re amazing! Thank you!

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