A Path to Gemeinschaftsgefühl is A Path to Well-being
When searching for the fundamental definition of positive mental health and well-being, few rival Dr. Alfred Adler’s theory purporting the importance of Gemeinschaftsgefühl, meaning “social interest, social feeling, community sense, community feeling and humanistic identification.” Adler was Sigmund Freud’s contemporary in Vienna, Austria, at the beginning of the 20th century, but his theory differed significantly and focused on social connectedness as the way to strengthen individuals’ psychological condition.
The theory maintains that the ultimate expression of social interest lies in the cooperative, productive, and progressive activity within the context of empathetic relationships. Hence, true growth only lies in the context of relationships, and healthy psychological well-being exists when individuals secure a place within the human community. Adler said, “Social interest is the true and inevitable compensation for all the natural weakness- es of individual human beings.” Since fear and weakness are intrinsic aspects of the human condition, finding meaning and purpose through furthering the welfare of others transcends self-absorbed preoccupations.
Gemeinschaftsgefühl is a powerful philosophical concept that has practical applications in everyday life. Belonging to a community and taking responsibility in shaping that community by encouraging and empowering children, families, and schools are examples of what Adler reinforced in Vienna. He successfully moved for parenting and schooling reform to combat a high rate in adolescent suicide. Advocating for policy changes is one illustration of social interest; however, it can be as simple as helping someone cross the street or volunteering time and resources within the community.
Although characteristics of social interest are noticeable in early childhood, they can also be cultivated and supported over the lifespan. Stimulating the growth of compassionate and conscientious children begins by encouraging them to be sensitive to the needs and perspective of others. Leading by example is the most effective way to demonstrate the significance of social interest, giving considerable meaning to terms “good karma” and “pass it on.”
Since social interest is a way of life and represents a courageous movement, individuals can improve their own sense of confidence and well-being by furthering the welfare of others throughout their lifespan. Everyone takes some responsibility in shaping the community, and depending on the level of involvement, individuals can reduce a sense of loneliness and isolation that is a fundamental part of the human condition.
By Amber Fasula, Psy.D., BCN