Happiness, as it turns out, is contagious. When you encounter happiness from your family, friends, coworkers and even strangers, you’re more likely to be happy yourself. So how is happiness spread? Why should we make the effort? What does it mean for our own happiness, and what are some of the ways to spread happiness?
Studies have shown that happiness can be spread from one person to another. When you’re happy, the people around you are more likely to be happy too. And when your social circle is happier, they’ll help bring up your happiness in turn. This is called a positive feedback loop, and it benefits everybody.
In this article, we’ll look at the research on how happiness is spread, some examples of how happiness has made communities or families stronger and happier, and some techniques you can put into action to spread happiness to others around you.
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
How is happiness spread?
Happiness as a contagion — something that can be spread between people — hasn’t gotten a lot of research interest in the scientific community. However, the studies that have been done indicate that happiness can pass from one person to the next, moving through a community, office building or neighborhood.
One study by Fowler and Christakis (2008) tracked people in their community for over 20 years. The results of the study? “People who are surrounded by many happy people … are more likely to become happy in the future.” And that’s not all. Their research suggests that, rather than happy people tending to just group together, “clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals.”
Your happiness is my happiness
So how exactly does being around happy people make you happy? Scientists are still answering that question, but there are probably a number of different ways.
We already know that laughter and smiling is contagious, and that the act of smiling can help make you feel happier. Our tendency to mimic the facial expressions and body language of those around us can have a powerful effect on our moods.
The authors of the 2008 study mentioned above hypothesize that a multitude of little moments of joy and happiness experienced with others has an effect on your own. And it seems like happiness is more contagious than despair — by about 30%.
One study of married couples shows that happiness can be transmitted between partners by helping them cope with stressors like losing a job or illness, and this study of athletes shows that athletes are happier when their teammates are happier. Even online communities like Twitter demonstrate clustering of happy and unhappy groups.
Finally, if you’re like most people, you turn to your friends for help when you’re feeling crappy. You might seek out family members or coworkers for advice. Happier people are more helpful in these kinds of situations, and more willing to put in the work necessary to bring your mood back up.
Why you should try to spread happiness
Spreading happiness can do different things at different levels. On a personal level, we’ve already seen above that happier individuals make great partners and helpful friends. This study by Demir & Özdemir suggests that having a happier social circle means that your own psychological needs, like feeling related to, independent and competent, are more likely to be met.
As we’ve already mentioned, happiness gets spread in a positive feedback loop. When you spread happiness, you’re not only helping others, you’re helping yourself. By spreading happiness, your family, friends and community will benefit from everything we’ve mentioned, and so will you. So let’s spread some happiness!
Simple tips on how to spread happiness
Now that you know all about the benefits of spreading happiness, it’s time to get to work! Here are 3 great ways to help spread happiness to your friends and family, coworkers, and even strangers.
1. Smile more!
The whole world smiles with you – so the saying goes. Is it true? This is one that you can try yourself. The next time you go out, pay attention to how people look at you and interact with you as you move past one another. For the sake of the experiment, try not to smile or show any emotion when you make eye-contact or approach one another. How many people are smiling?
Try it again another day, but this time, go out and smile at every opportunity. Again, pay attention to how people respond and whether they smile or not. I can guarantee you that more people will smile back at you when you smile at them. And since we know that simply smiling can help boost your happiness, you can feel great knowing that you gave their well-being a boost.
2. Pay it forward
In more than one of the studies above, it was found that happiness was spread between people by providing support when they encountered difficult situations. Last week, one of my coworkers was obviously feeling like crap. She wasn’t sick, and she was still getting their work done, but she was really quiet and withdrawn. I noticed this but wasn’t really sure what I could do at first. We’re not close friends, but we work together, and I could see she wasn’t happy.
I had finished up my work for the day and was contemplating going home early. But I looked at her workload and knew that she was looking at a long day. We’ve all been in that situation – where you want nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed.
I started going through her tasks and doing anything I could. There was only about an hour left before the end of the day, but I decided to get as much done as possible to ease her load. At the end of the day, she came over to see me and thanked me. I wasn’t even sure if she’d noticed, but she told me she had, and that it had made her feel a lot better knowing people were looking out for her.
3. Cook a meal for others!
You may already be aware of the benefits that cooking or baking for others has on your happiness. According to this study from Oxford University, people who share meals more often report feeling happier and more satisfied. The study also demonstrates that people seem to know this intuitively: more than 75% of the participants agreed that sharing a meal is a good way to bring people together.
But you probably didn’t need a study to tell you that. If you’re like me, then some of your happiest moments were probably with friends or family around a hot meal. Home-cooked meals make us feel cared for and loved — two things that are known to have a big impact on our happiness. And healthy, quality food has been linked to happiness as well.
So get together your friends or loved ones, cook them something that will nourish the body and soul, and you’ll all reap the benefits.
To be happy, find happy people
So what does all this mean for your own happiness? If there’s one big takeaway from what we’ve learned, it’s that you’ll be happier if you are surrounded by happy people. That definitely doesn’t mean cutting “negative” or unhappy people out of your life. Not at all. By spreading happiness to your friends, family and coworkers, you can help make everybody in your social circle happier, yourself included.
It means that building rewarding relationships and seeking out happier environments can make you a happier person. Try to keep that in mind the next time you’re in a social situation and meeting new people. The more happy people you have in your life, the happier you’ll probably be yourself.
These are just three examples of the many, many ways to spread happiness in the world. Smiling at strangers, helping somebody in need, or preparing a hot meal are great ways to spread happiness, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Try to think of other ways to spread happiness to your friends, family, coworkers and strangers, and take note of what kind of effect it has on them. You can record your experiences in your Tracking Happiness journal, to see what kind of effect it has on your one happiness. If you’re not already tracking your happiness, you can download my free template here to get started.
If there’s anything I missed, I’d love to know. Do you have a personal tip you would like to share? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
Academic researcher and writer with a passion for statistical analysis, neuropsychology and mental health.