Happiness in post baby boomer generations has been a goal that children and adults have been encouraged to achieve. It’s not just a fleeting feeling, but an overall positive outlook on life and a contentedness with our circumstances. A 2016 study revealed that 81% of Americans would rather be happy that do great things. Only 13% said that doing great things was more important.
Recent studies have shown that our happiness effects not only our social group, but also the larger group of friends that include our friend’s friends. There is an old shampoo commercial espousing the limitless effect when a woman “tells two friends, who tells two friends, and so on, and so on.” We can do the same thing by sharing our positive outlook and kindness.
A Quick review of studies focusing on happiness
The data from a number of studies linked happiness to better health, less stress and longer lifelines.
…people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.
A review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects found “clear and compelling evidence” that — all else being equal — happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers. Some of these studies included blood tests on humans. They found that positive moods reduce stress-related hormones, increase immune function and promote the speedy recovery of the heart after exertion. (They also found that marital conflicts and high hostility in married couples were associated with slow wound healing and a poorer immune response. Interesting!)
Scientists reviewing these studies concluded that while happiness might not by itself prevent or cure disease, the evidence that positive emotions and enjoyment of life contribute to better health and a longer lifespan is stronger than the data linking obesity to reduced longevity.
Is happiness contagious?
A Framingham Heart social network study followed 4,739 participants from 1983 to 2003. They concluded that clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in (relationship) networks, and the connection between people’s happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one’s friends’ friends). People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the (relationship) network are more likely to become happy in the future. Longitudinal statistical models suggest that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals.
Their conclusion states: People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This supplies further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.
James H. Fowler, PhD, of the University of California-San Diego and Harvard social scientist Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, have been studying social networks for several years, using data from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study. Fowler says “the findings do not mean you should avoid unhappy people, but that you should try whenever you can to spread happiness. We need to think of happiness as a collective phenomenon,” he says. “If I come home in a bad mood, I may be missing an opportunity to make not just my wife and son happy, but their friends.”
Can we increase our happiness by focusing on making someone else happy?
In studies first published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, show that trying to make someone else happy leads to greater subjective well-being than trying to make oneself happy.
These studies looked at the differences between efforts to make yourself happy and efforts to make others happy. They found that focusing on others was more likely to make a person happy. For instance, one study found that participants randomly assigned to spend money on others later felt happier than participants assigned to spend the same amount of money on themselves.
A 2016 study compared self-focused acts of kindness with other-focused acts of kindness. They found that being kind to others led to more positive emotion, less negative emotion, and more psychological flourishing, compared to self-focused acts of kindness. A recent meta-analysis found that engaging in kind acts towards others leads to improvement in well-being for the person engaging in these kind acts which is not moderated by age, gender, outcome measures or control conditions.
Suggested small acts of kindness to increase the happiness in your world
- Sincere compliments to strangers and loved ones
- Let someone cut in front of you in line, or let a car in when they signal a move to your lane
- Leave a bigger than expected trip
- Offer to return a strangers shopping cart
- Leave a coupon next to the related item in the grocery store
- Pay it forward for coffee or fast food
- Smile at strangers
- Write a thank you note to your mail carrier
- Leave bottled water and a snack with a sign that says, “thanks for delivering!” at your door when you’re expecting a delivery
- Tell the manager or supervisor of a person who gave you great service, what a wonderful job they did
- Tell the people you love something that you love about them
- Reconnect with an old friend and let them know how important they were to you
- Put an “I Love You” note in your kid’s lunch box
The studies and the research support what we only suspected! Happiness is contagious and we can create a happier world by focusing on kind acts towards others and nurturing happiness within ourselves. Check out these other Splitsvil articles on happiness.
Still skeptical? Try it out for a week, cultivating your happiness, spreading kindness and love in your social group. If it works, you have a new tool to bring your happiness to the surface and reap the health benefits of your efforts. Drop a note in our comments and let us know your results!