Happiness is Contagious. Let’s Spread Some Joy Germs

We have a day of the year for just about everything nowadays. Most of them are silly, like What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day and Peanut Butter Lovers Day. But some are actually worth celebrating.

Joy Germ Day is one of those days. It happened just a couple of days ago, but it’s never too late to celebrate joy!

Whether she realized it or not, Joan White was onto something when she came up with the idea for the holiday in 1981. As it turns out, happiness is contagious. Research has shown it can spread from person to person just like the flu.

How Happiness Spreads

Using data from the landmark Framingham Heart Study, researchers analyzed the dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network. What they concluded is that “people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.”

That in itself is nothing new. We all know hanging out with positive, upbeat friends leaves us feeling happier, while spending time with a Negative Nancy puts us in funk. But here’s where it gets interesting.

The study proved that indirect relationships play a role in our happiness, too. According to the study’s co-author, James H. Fowler, PhD, there is a statistical relationship between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness. Something they call” three degrees of separation”.

You may be wondering if that means unhappiness is also contagious. It is, but fortunately to a much lesser degree. Fowler emphasizes this point by saying there’s no need to avoid unhappy people. Instead, he suggests making an effort whenever you can to spread happiness.

Good News Trumps Bad

Spreading happiness. It sounds very Pollyanna, but does it even work? Surely our efforts will get lost in the fray? After all, we’ve all heard the adage “if it bleeds, it leads”.

Actually, no. That might apply to mass media, where all they’re interested in is getting eyes on the story, but when it comes to social networks, good news trumps bad.

“When you share a story with your friends and peers, you care a lot more how they react. You don’t want them to think of you as a Debbie Downer.” says Jonah Berger, a social psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

He’s right, of course. Nobody wants to intentionally bring down a friend’s mood. So go ahead: start spreading the good news. It’ll make you happy, and it’ll make your friends and their friends happy, too.

Start a Positive Detective Campaign

Happiness is Contagious

You don’t have to wait until next year’s Joy Germ Day to spread some happiness. The are plenty of ways to emit the joy bug on a daily basis. Smiling and being nice can have a wonderful effect on the people around you.

Joan White, for example, publishes a seasonal newsletter titled “Infectionately Yours”. She also sends cards and letters and phones people. If that all sounds too old school for you, why not spread some happiness on social media?

Professor Lea Waters, PhD—Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne—set up a Positive Detective campaign on Twitter and asked her network to share positive news.

As a result, she now wakes up to a new positive tweet every day. As does everyone in her network. If you’re on Twitter and would like in on some of that goodness, be sure to follow @PositiveDetective as well as the hashtag #positivedetective.

“Sharing your good news might seem like a small gesture,” says Walters, “but it can provide people with a life raft in the sea of negativity that is often mainstream media.”

Where you live does play a role in your happiness, but not everyone is fortunate enough to live in the happiest place in America. If each of us makes the effort to spread happiness in our own communities, pretty soon everywhere will be the happiest place.

Photos via Getty Images

48 comments

Victoria O
Victoria Ohimia14 hours ago

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Drake Muir
Drake Muir15 hours ago

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Daniel N
Daniel N2 days ago

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Toni W
Toni W5 days ago

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Toni W
Toni W5 days ago

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Past Member
Past Member 5 days ago

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Martin H
Martin H6 days ago

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Leo C
Leo C6 days ago

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Leo C
Leo C7 days ago

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