“A man's country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle,” wrote American writer and public speaker, George William Curtis.
Independence Day is around the corner, and no one is immune to the fervour of patriotic spirit, which will reach its peak on August 15. The euphoric state is best witnessed early morning. Flags are hoisted in every bylane in sync with the celebration at Red Fort; children run around with little tricolours in their hands singing, “Saare jahan se accha, Hindustan hamara”; elders rise early, dress up and greet each other enthusiastically – it’s nothing short of a festival.
Shared support for a country strengthens social bonds among its citizens, and provides an incubator in which trust and compassion can flourish. It may sound a bit stretched, but what one feels about their country is no different than what one feels about home: love, comfort and pride. Consequently, the health benefits of patriotism are profound.
Patriotism can drive people to extremes of altruism and self-sacrifice on behalf of the homeland. As the cliché has it, war brings out the best and worst in human beings. Thus, it helps tie us together within national borders. From a psychological point of view, this sense of belonging brings a feeling of security. Being socially acceptable, thriving on something larger than oneself, and seeing the opportunity to contribute to society moves one closer to self-actualisation, as put forth by Maslow in his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs.
In a 2012 report for Psychological Science, Matthew Wright, a political scientist at American University, and Tim Reeskens, a sociologist from Catholic University in Belgium found that more national pride correlated with greater personal well being. They also noticed that those individuals who connected nationalism with respect for a country’s institutions and values, rather than race or religion, were the most content.
There are social and psychological benefits that make life generally safer and easier with fellow citizens: shared language, culture, traditions, memories, identity, and roots that don't exist elsewhere.
A sense of belonging
In his 2012 book The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that morality arises from intuitions, not reasoning, and that our intuitions rest upon six foundations, which he defines as a series of binary opposites: ‘Care/Harm’; ‘Fairness/Cheating’; ‘Loyalty/Betrayal’; and ‘Authority/Subversion’.
Haidt argued that the ‘Loyalty’ foundation has deep evolutionary roots. Humans have always had to come together in groups to survive and thrive, and bonding with some seems to naturally involve excluding others.
This is true down to a neurochemical level. Oxytocin, for example, has been nicknamed the “love hormone” for its role in helping people bond with one another. But what’s less known is that oxytocin plays a role in excluding others from that bond. A 2011 study found that Dutch students given oxytocin were “more likely to favour Dutch people or things associated with the Dutch than when they had taken a placebo.” Furthermore, they were more likely to sacrifice the life of a non-Dutch person over a Dutch person in order to save five other people of unknown nationality. We might as well call oxytocin the “patriotism hormone”!
This is only one example of how our bodies are seemingly built for group cohesion and loyalty, which makes traits like patriotism an intractable part of human psychology.
We "enjoy the past" in our homeland more than any other place. Our memories in our country help us understand ourselves better, giving unity to life's different stages, from birth to death. Sometimes, citizens help their country merely for those pleasant memories that shaped their lifelong personality. Even though they are saved as mere brain signals, they affect other brain parts throughout the life cycle.