Conviviality, what’s the point of it?

Conviviality. Every person knows conviviality. But what is it about fun? Why do we find candles pleasant at dinner, what is their purpose? Research has shown that socializing has many benefits for people. This can make you feel less pain.

Why do we create conviviality?

Why do we find plants in front of the door pleasant? And what is the reason we light candles at dinner? Is there an evolutionary advantage to sociability? Without those frills, we can continue to live, right?
Colder rain tapped against the windows, but inside the gas heater kept it tropically warm. Calm music sounded from the speakers. My girlfriend stepped out of the kitchen. In one hand a red and white dotted teapot, in the other hand two mugs. And between her teeth she clutched a box of matches. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her light the burgundy pillar candles on the table. And suddenly I changed from a reading young man to a curious biologist. I distanced myself from the scene I was a part of. I viewed humans as a rare animal, my girlfriend as a special specimen. One simple question ran through my mind: why did she light the candles?
The central question in the above situation is: what is really the point of creating conviviality? And what benefit do people get from dimmed lights, a colorful bowl full of acorns and autumn leaves on the mantelpiece? Might it make people reproduce better?

Do animals know sociability?

Nice research, does that exist? Anyone who types the word into large databases does not get far. Conviviality as a research topic is not popular, it seems. Can we nevertheless say something meaningful about it? We are going to try.
Let’s start the search in the animal kingdom. What can animals teach us about the benefits of socializing? At first glance, not very much. There are hardly any animals that are as fond of a comfortably furnished home as people are. Beavers build the most beautiful dams, there are termite colonies that construct impressive termite cathedrals, and mole rats dig extensive tunnel systems. But do they go to all that effort for the fun? Not quite. They build to survive. It is most pleasant with a bird with the beautiful family name Ptilonorhychidae, better known as the bower bird. These are crow-like songbirds that live in New Guinea and Australia. The males of this species have developed over the centuries into flying architects. They devote themselves with heart and soul to the construction of arbors, structures that vary from a few simple twigs to complex branch constructions. And some bowerbirds even paint the walls of their homes with the juice of berries.
But why do those bowerbirds work so hard? Simple: because they didn’t get beautiful feathers from mother nature. There is no other option than to look for other ways to make an impression. By dedicating themselves to the arts, the polygamous males try to seduce as many ladies as possible and provide them with sperm. The female bowerbirds select their mates based on the quality of their bower, the amount of decoration and similarity to the local architectural style, which varies by species and population.

Conviviality protects the relationship

So the bowerbird seduces the ladies with the ‘coziness’ of its home. Does that perhaps also apply to us? Is my girlfriend then the bird with the ugly feathers, who makes her nest cozy to tempt me to mate? Man tries to please the opposite sex in many different ways. That is why creativity emerged. So that people can impress others. Art is as unnecessary as a peacock’s feathers, but that is precisely why it is attractive. A peacock shows that it not only has the strength to survive, but that it can also put energy into something as useless as a beautiful bunch of feathers. The same applies to an artist.
Fun to impress the opposite sex, it sounds interesting. Yet something strange is going on. It is often not the men, but the women who provide coziness in the home. They usually light the candles, arrange the flowers and put a colorful tablecloth on the table when visitors come. Is man a strange animal species, where the females seduce the males? No. Men and women seduce each other. But women don’t just enjoy winning over men. She also does this with the aim of keeping her partner. Like many birds, humans live in pairs. But there is always competition lurking. A woman lights candles to strengthen the pair bond. She makes the house cozy so that the man will not leave her for another woman.

Create conviviality or spread territory?

Yet there must be more than that. Because fun doesn’t just happen between lovers. I would also rather have a beer with my friends in my own living room than on folding chairs in the neighbors’ empty house. What’s up with that? The company is the same, the beer tastes exactly the same, but we still prefer to sit in a decorated room.
People, like animals, have a territory. Our home is a safe haven. We know that place is ours, and that our privacy will not be violated. Where animals provide the boundaries of their territory with a scented pool, we humans hang up a few paintings and light candles. As if we were saying: this room is mine!

Less pain from plants

American research shows that a person can tolerate pain better when he is in a room with plants than in a room without plants. This is in line with the research of American researcher Roger Ulrich. In the 1980s he discovered that patients with a view of some beautiful trees were discharged from the hospital earlier after surgery than the patients a few rooms away, who had a view of a brick wall. They could also get by with less severe painkillers. Apparently we can no longer avoid it: our environment partly determines how we feel. Sometimes even in a way that we can hardly understand. The exact same event can take on a different meaning in a different environment.
People design their environment, consciously or not, to appear a certain way to others. Just look at people who have visitors. They often clean up their house for this purpose. Why? That is a form of impression management. They just want to make a decent impression.

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