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Happiness is contagious

Updated on April 10, 2015

All of us must have experienced a fact that happiness is contagious. When some one is happy around us, we can so easily experience his or her happiness and, similarly, when we are happy, others around us experience it too. It has been found that if an individual is happy, his or her happiness can even be experienced by some persons up to a distance as if happiness travels over a distance. In a similar manner, sadness also travels over distances, sometimes faster.

A new study from the University of California, San Deigo and Yale University shows that emotions expressed online – both negative and positive – are contagious. This implies that emotions themselves might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals. So, the next time before posting a social network update, we should pause and think about the effect it will have on others.

Our day-to-day life is full instances that show that happiness is contagious. For example, if someone gets news that his daughter, who is living in the US with her husband, is blessed with a son he feels happy on getting the news. So, this shows that happiness can travel long distances to make others happy who are closely associated with the person, experiencing happiness.

There are basically two distinct kinds of happiness. One kind of happiness is a feeling of calmness and the other kind is a feeling of pleasant excitement. The first kind of happiness is associated with a focus on the present moment and the second one is associated with a focus on possibilities in the future. It has been seen that older persons are more likely to experience the first kind of happiness, whereas youngsters experience more of the second kind. The first kind gives more emotional calmness and stability because of the focus on the present moment. And since the second kind is associated with expectations in the future, such happiness may disappear if the expectations are not fulfilled. On the other hand, it may result in unhappiness when the expectations are not fully met as one desired.

There are many things that impact our happiness. They include money, friends, health, and living conditions. For some others, things such as neighborhood, spirituality, community involvement and sense of meaning in life are equally or more significant.

A research has found that the default setting of happiness is directly controlled by a single gene – a more efficient version of serotonin transporter gene 5HTT. The individuals with this gene are significantly more likely to have higher levels of life satisfaction. Having one or two versions of the more efficient gene raises the average likelihood of being very satisfied with one's life by 8.5% and 17.3%, respectively. However, this association study does not establish that 5HTT causes happiness nor does it exclude the possibility of other genes playing a role. It only suggests at least one possible cause to account for the influence of genes on happiness.

Researchers have found that more than half of happiness depends on things that are actually under our control. It is significant to note that happiness can be cultivated by changing our perceptions about it.

  • Wealth and happiness - There is a co-relation between happiness and income of people. When basic needs are not met, people tend to think that wealth gives happiness. But, as a matter of fact, money does not lead to nearly as much happiness as people think it will.
  • Gratitude – The expression of gratitude is one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in life. The positive effect of even small expressions of gratitude such as “Thank you for” can be quite noticeable in us.
  • Trust and morality – The psychologists believe that traits of trust, empathy and morality in people increase the level of oxytocin in them. So does the simple act of hugging each other. And an increase in internal oxytocin results in a happier you.
  • Smile – An easy way to create happiness is to recall pleasant memories and smile. Moreover, smile is contagious too and others will respond to smiles with smiles.
  • Acts of kindness – People, who perform acts of kindness, experience significantly higher happiness. They are liked more by others, which also contributes to their personal popularity among others.
  • Regular exercise - With regular exercise, people’s moods significantly improve after exercise and this effect lasts for some hours during the day. They are also more productive and equipped to manage stress effectively during the day.
  • Experiential purchases – It has been demonstrated that experiential purchases such as a meal out or a theater ticket cause more happiness than material purchases. So do holiday trips with the family or friends.
  • Volunteering – It has been found that donating time for special causes people believe in firmly gives them overall life satisfaction and happiness.
  • Generosity – It has been found that being generous in giving things and money to people, who really deserve them, provides overall life satisfaction and happiness.
  • Humor – Enjoying good humor causes happiness but one should make sure that it is not done at cost of others or else it can cause displeasure instead of fun.
  • Playfulness – On should indulge in child-like playfulness whenever one gets an opportunity because as we know that children are a happiest lot amongst us. But, at the same time, we should ensure that as an adult playfulness should not be enjoyed indiscriminatingly.
  • Mindfulness – Above all by doing daily chores mindfully, we can create happiness in whatever we are doing because it keeps us grounded in the present moment.

Points to remember –

  • Happiness is controlled by a single gene – 5HTT, which is more efficient in some people. This association needs to be validated further. But, in spite of the observation that some people are inherently happier, happiness is highly contagious and spreads very fast.
  • Emotions – positive as well as negative - are even contagious, when expressed online. So, one should be wary of posting updates on social networks or else they may affect others emotionally creating happiness or unhappiness. We should do our best to post updates that spread happiness.
  • There are many things that impact our happiness. They vary from person to person depending on their circumstances, educational level and emotional maturity.
  • Happiness dependent on acquisition of material assets is not likely to last longer because the desire to acquire more doesn’t die down, thereby reducing life satisfaction.
  • But happiness associated with a mindful focus on the present moment is lasting.
  • In spite of happiness being elusive, it can be captured by changing our perceptions about it and introducing happiness enhancing elements in our lifestyle.
  • Last but not the least, happiness attracts happiness and so be happy all the time to attract more of it.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for liking my posts and encouraging comments.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      It really is.That is why one should surround himself with joyous and positive people.

      I've read some of your posts. Will be reading more soon.

      Best wishes for all your future endeavours :)

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Indeed, some of our emotions are influenced by our genes but we can learn to control our emotions positively, thereby weakening genetic effect to a certain extent. Thanks for your comments.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is interesting that we actually have a gene that is noted to have an effect on our happiness. I wonder if there are genes for other emotions. Some people tend to be more sensitive to certain types of emotions, and pick up on them more readily. I noticed this in my own children and close family members.


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