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The Office Finale's 'Miraculous' Quote -- The Scientific Truth Behind It

05/21/2013 03:53 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2013
AP

The Office finale gave us a bounty of amazing quotes such as Andy's "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them" and Pam's perfect ending quote, "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things."

However, potentially the best and definitely the most psychologically interesting quote came from Creed:

"No matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home."

Creed captured a sentiment we have all felt and psychologists have been examining for decades: the fascinating and wonderful way people can show up to an office, college, or yoga class and immediately convert it into a home, feel love, and pledge allegiance to a group.

People are "groupish," and we tend to form groups automatically. Some have argued that this is due in large part to humans' tribal past and evolutionary development. Regardless of why we are this way, the descriptive truth is that this is how we are.

To study humans' "groupish" tendencies, social psychologists use the "minimal group paradigm".

In this paradigm, scientists put people into groups based on meaningless information, e.g. eye color or completely randomly. Interestingly, although the group formation is meaningless, people immediately imbue meaning into their group. They develop structure within their groups and favoritism for their own group.

The Office reminds us that the workplace is a group that can become home. For many people, losing a job hurts most not because they lose money, but because they lose a home. After being let go, many psychologists advise people to immediately become part of something bigger than yourself, whether that is a volunteer project, a sports team, or yoga class. People often do not realize how much social support they get from their jobs.

Michael Scott also reminds us that the workplace should be more like a home. The original office boss, Michael Scott (actor Steve Carrel) tried to make his office a warm and entertaining environment. Most people spend the near majority of their week at work. Thus, a significant way to improve the happiness of Americans is to improve the happiness of their jobs -- not necessarily their paycheck. Benevolent bosses should try and make employees happy. And bosses should know that in most cases happy employees are also better employees.

Sometimes homes will form automatically, others times they will not. Creed would have never called his office a home, if it weren't for the attempts of Michael Scott to make it more like a home. Social norms, awkwardness, and work place competition can get in the way of group formation. Michael Scott provided both inspirations of love and at times a common enemy for the office to come together over.

In the modern world, people often do not stay in one place for a long time. People may move often and cross cultural lines. Some might claim such movement ruins life and makes happiness near impossible. For instance, it is often difficult to break into an established group and community.

However, people have the adaptive potential to quickly become part of new homes and become part of new groups, if the situation permits. Integration often fails not because it's impossible, but because it is not made easy.

Anyone who has moved to a new city without friends knows how difficult integration can be. However, moving to college without friends is much less difficult. Colleges spend time in the first few weeks trying to integrate the freshman. This is often at the expense of the students' studies. But colleges know that is a sacrifice worth making as happy kids with social networks unified under one mascot will lead to better outcomes. Communities and workplaces should follow the example of colleges and work harder to integrate people.

The Office
taught us that an office is not always just an office, it can be a home. And just like any home, you don't have to like or agree with everyone in the home. You might play harsh pranks on each other, get in fights, and lose faith in one another. However, humans' groupish tendencies can triumph over all the differences. Under the right circumstances we can make a home of anywhere and that truly is "miraculous."