The Surprising Power of Community

During our September dive into relationships and happiness we’ve learned that strong relationships make us happier.

We also know that helping others makes us happy.

This makes sense to the extent that helping people we know strengthens our relationships with them.

One of the mysteries, though, is why helping strangers makes us happier. It doesn’t strengthen our relationships, because we may never see those people again or we may be doing our good deeds anonymously. In the case of some charities we may not even be able to identify the specific people that we are helping. And yet, we still are happier.

One possible solution is that helping others, even others that we don’t know, makes us feel like part of a larger community.

Larger Than Ourselves

Research is clear that being part of a community makes us happier. Being part of a group that is larger than ourselves boosts our mood and our assessment of our lives.

Even when we do not have individual relationships with each person in the group, we still get the happiness boost from this wide net of relationships based on having something in common.

This can apply to all sorts of communities, but we have research on religion, sports, and video games, so that’s where we’ll start today.

Community and Religion

Studies consistently show that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

There are a lot of different reasons for this, and none of them includes that some group has discovered the one true religion. (The happiness boost to religious people is equal across all sorts of different schools of belief.)

One reason is that organized religion comes with a built-in community.

Going to religious services and events puts you in the center of a group of people that all have something in common. You are immediately a part of a community larger than yourself. This builds up your social support and gives you new relationships in your life.

Sports and Community

People often get angry when they see others comparing religion to sports, but there is at least one similarity: Being a part of a fan base provides a sense of community.

Again, you are put into a group of people that all have something in common. Regardless of what else is happening in your life, for the few hours that you are watching the game you are on the same side and feel the same sense of joy or loss. You rise and fall and feel a bond with these people as the action progresses.

These are relationships. They may not be deep relationships, but they are relationships and they contribute to your happiness.

Fans in Exile

I have also experienced the power of sports to create community when away from the team’s home base.

I have watched Red Sox games in bars from San Francisco to the Bahamas. When the Sox score, you naturally see the other people that are cheering and quite often end up striking up conversations. While I am generally pretty awkward with starting conversations (come talk to me at FinCon next week!), the game gives you an obvious starting point where you have something in common.

A similar effect occurs outside of the game, whether it’s a stranger starting a conversation with me on a hike in Virginia based on my Red Sox hat or talking to Mr. PIE in Dallas when we both had Patriots gear.

Fanhood creates a sense of community and builds relationships, even if only weak ones, that contribute to our happiness.

Video Games and Community

Strangely enough, studies have found the same type of community bonding in video games.

Video games are often a multiplayer endeavor. Whether you’re sitting with your friends in the basement or competing with strangers online, you are building relationships.

Some games, like World of Warcraft, require you to actually build relationships within the game and work together to achieve your objectives. These types of games can actually increase your happiness significantly according to studies that have been conducted.

So whatever method you have, start building those communities! Find something that you love and then find others that love it to. You’ll be happy that you did.

Join the Conversation!

What communities are you a part of? Have you found that they boost your happiness? Have you seen a difference between closer relationships and weaker bonds? Let us know in the comments!

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