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Why Some of Our Most Joyous Moments Happen in Crowds

How a baseball game can unite a city.

Key points

  • Positivity makes us more curious, encourages us to connect with others, and helps us find solutions to problems.
  • Emotions are contagious, and we all naturally want to spread (and catch) positive emotions whenever possible.
  • Savoring shared experiences is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with our loved ones.

Bottom of the 8th inning, the Phillies are down 3-2 to the Padres. Man on first. Bryce Harper is up to bat. The count is 2-2. He swings and whacks the ball hard. It’s going into deep left-center field. It keeps going. And going! And it’s gone! A two-run home run! The crowd goes wild! The noise decibel is off the charts! Everyone is jumping up and down cheering! We are now up 4-3!

Fast forward to top of the ninth inning. The Padres are up to bat. The Phillies are one out away from winning the National League Championship Series (NLCS). A shallow hit into right field. The estimated 45,467 spectators at a sold-out Citizens Bank Park are on their feet waiting silently with bated breath. Nick Castellanos catches the ball for the third out. Suddenly the stadium is on fire! The fans erupt with unfettered excitement. The Phillies are headed to the World Series for the first time since 2009! The joy is palpable, and the collective positive emotion is electrifying!

 Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
The estimated 45,467 fans at Citizens Bank Park erupt with pure joy after the Phillies win game 5 of the National League Championship Series and are headed to the World Series.
Source: Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

We can’t help replaying those celebratory moments in our head when the Phillies won the NLCS on Sunday night! Like many, many others, we are pumped for our hard-working, incredibly talented, and resilient team! We were fortunate to have attended the last two games in person with our 11-year-old son. We bought game tickets as a gift for him for his upcoming 12th birthday.

Research suggests that people tend to feel happier when they receive gifts that involve experiences rather than physical gifts. And experiential gifts also appear to strengthen relationships. We took these findings to heart when we invested in tickets for the games for our son, rather than spending money on a material gift. We had discussed how attending the two playoff games would be an experience he’d never forget. Not to mention the memories he’d also have if the Phillies ended up winning!

 Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Suzie, James, and Liam attending Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
Source: Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

And now, with Sunday night’s big win, we as a family are savoring the extraordinary time we had watching our home team, along with more than 45,000 other fans, secure the National League pennant. We are continuing to relive all the wonderful moments from the weekend and can’t but help feel so many positive emotions.

It reminded us of our dear friend Marty Seligman’s comment that the time he felt the most positive emotions in his life was when he attended game six of the 1980 World Series when the Phillies won. One of us (Suzie) recalls thinking that it was interesting of all the moments in his life (a life filled with numerous personal achievements, awards, and accolades) that this very moment is the one when he felt the most joyous.

And now we both know from first-hand experience why. And research backs up the profound feeling of heightened joy that many of us feel at moments like these.

  • Positivity contagion: As we've previously written about, emotions are contagious. Fortunately, not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well. Unlike negativity, we all naturally want to spread (and catch!) positive emotions whenever possible. This was no hard feat the other night.
 Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Suzie waving her "Red October" towel at the Phillies National League Championship Series game.
Source: Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

The joy was so palpable at Citizens Bank Park that you couldn’t but help catch it and break out in a true Duchenne smile. Even the most stoic of fans, as well as some of the baseball players who are said to be very contained, couldn’t help but express their emotions. Whether it was an uncontrollable smile that appeared across their face, an energetic fist pump into the air, or a playful and light-hearted leap, positive emotions were everywhere and spreading like wildfire throughout the stadium.

  • Co-experienced positive emotions: When we experience positive emotions with others, it’s like compound interest. A win–win for all! As we addressed in a previous post, recent research suggests that co-experienced positive affect may be a key ingredient of high-quality relationships.
 Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Suzie, James, and Liam cheer on the Phillies with tens of thousands of fellow fans at Citizens Bank Park.
Source: Courtesy of Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

Attending the game together with our son, and thousands of others, didn’t just make us feel good, it also gave us a sense of what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “communitas,” or community. In his hive hypothesis, he argues in part that “people need to lose themselves occasionally by becoming part of an emergent social organism in order to reach the highest levels of human flourishing.” He also talks about the joy of synchronized movement, and its association with well-being. Dancing and singing together with tens of thousands of people at the stadium definitely was an incredible psychological phenomenon where we felt connected with everyone present.

  • Savoring shared experiences: As we discuss in Happy Together, savoring shared experiences is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with our loved ones. We told our son to savor the experience and to focus on the present moment after we won the game rather than focusing on what is to come next—the World Series. We helped him to savor this win by slowing down and not looking ahead too quickly. We did our best to explain to him the importance of immersing ourselves in the collective joy. And we tried to model it as well when we deliberately walked down Broad Street to join in the celebration with hundreds of others.

However, perhaps Bryce Harper modeled savoring shared experiences the best after his incredible two-run home run. He walked out of the batter's box and watched his ball skyrocket out of the field. Next, he turned his head toward the dugout. Then, rather than his usual sprint, he slowly rounded the bases. It was apparent he didn’t want to rush this incredible moment; instead, he did his best to let all the positive emotions soak in. He was fully present in the moment with his fellow teammates and his 45,000-plus ecstatic fans.

In an interview after the game he said, "I just looked at my dugout. It's for all of them. It's for this whole team. It's for this whole's for every single fan that's here."

In sum, coming together over a shared goal that we all value is key. Witnessing the success of the Phillies, our beloved underdog team, is that shared goal. We can’t think of the last time when we were with tens of thousands of people knowing that we were all rooting for the same thing. As we stated above, it gave us a sense of “communitas.” In that stadium for two days in a row, we felt that we were all in this together.

It didn’t matter where you came from, who you were voting for, or what you did for a living. No longer strangers, we all connected with one another. People were high-fiving each other on the subways and streets all the way back home. Wearing a Phillies shirt or cap made you part of the collective team. With so much turmoil and polarization currently in the world, it brought nearly the entire city together at a time when it is needed the most.

Source: Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Fellow Phillies fan Kenny who Suzie met while getting coffee
Source: Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

Just this morning I ("Suzie") had a random encounter with a fellow Phillies fan named "Kenny" while out getting my morning coffee. I immediately spotted his Phillies shirt and saw it as an open invitation to begin talking about our beloved team. So I did.

Before you knew it we were swapping stories of our experiences at the games. And, of course, I whipped out my phone to show him the videos I took of Harper's homer and the final out with my son's beaming face and everyone dancing in the stands. Kenny was warm and engaging. I felt like we suddenly became fast friends.

When I went to pay for my coffee the cashier said it was already taken care of. I asked by whom? "By the guy wearing the Phillies shirt," he responded. Of course, it was! He was a Phillies fan, and spreading positive cheer.

Suzann Pileggi Pawelski
Fellow Phillies fan Kenny spreading positive cheer by paying for Suzie's coffee
Source: Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

If only we could all continue spreading the positive emotions and friendly behavior. Our hope is that we all do.

While feelings don’t last forever, we know positivity has long-term benefits. It opens us up making us more curious, encourages us to connect with others, and helps us find solutions to problems. Important things we could all use more of these days.

Hopefully, we can leverage the moments of joy the Phillies brought us on this magical evening to make a positive difference in the world. And we look forward to more palpable joy in the next week with the impending World Series


Chan, C. & Mogilner, C. (2017). Experiential Gifts Foster Stronger Social Relationships Than Material Gifts, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 43, Issue 6, Pages 913–931,

Haidt, J., Patrick Seder, J., & Kesebir, S. (2008). Hive Psychology, Happiness, and Public Policy. The Journal of Legal Studies, 37(S2), S133–S156.

Pileggi Pawelski, S., Pawelski, J. O. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. NY: TarcherPerigee.

More from Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James Pawelski, Ph.D.
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