I wrote about happiness being an important concept for me in my stress and mindfulness post. The World Health Organisation acknowledges happiness as an aspect of health and is working on increasing it to better the health and quality of life of the global population 1.
There are many sources of happiness. Fascinatingly (well to me anyway), non-financial gains such as marriage, family life and health lead to a sustained increase in happiness, whereas those who pursue monetary incentives at the detriment of these attributes have lower levels of happiness2. This is evident to the extent that it has been suggested that the success and wealth of a country be measured by a ‘happiness factor’ rather than the more traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 3. Even Darwin proposed that emotions were fundamental to the ‘survival of the fittest’ 4.
One source of happiness is seeing happiness in others 5. Happiness is contagious. A study using the Framingham Heart Study social network showed that happiness could be shared via indirect contacts, not only direct friendships 5. It was also demonstrated how those surrounded with happy individuals were significantly more likely to have future happiness 5. Therefore, variations in an individual’s happiness can spread across entire social networks 5. Happiness has also been linked with elderly living longer, in a dose dependent manner 6.
Whilst the direct causal mechanisms for the spread of happiness might be yet unknown, this trait could be harnessed in public health and lifestyle medicine. If an intervention makes one person happier, this could ripple through an entire community, enhancing the effectiveness of the intervention.
This evidence suggests that happiness can be seen as a shared experience, rather than a solitary one.
Having read into this I feel more passionate than ever about spreading happiness! I’m going to start a project called ‘Share a smile’. Everyday I will post on Instagram a picture of either me sharing a smile with someone, a throw-back to a smile-inducing moment or having a big grin with a friend or an image that made me smile, in the hope it will do the same for you!
…Go spread some Happiness!
- Pronczuk-Garbino, J. (Jenny) & World Health Organization. Children’s health and the environment : a global perspective : a resource manual for the health sector. (World Health Organization, 2005).
- Easterlin, R. A. Explaining happiness. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100, 11176–83 (2003).
- Kováč, L. The biology of happiness. Chasing pleasure and human destiny. EMBO Rep. 13, 297–302 (2012).
- Darwin, C. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. (Penguin Classics, 2009).
- Fowler, J. H. & Christakis, N. A. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ 337, a2338 (2008).
- Chei, C.-L., Lee, J. M.-L., Ma, S. & Malhotra, R. Happy older people live longer. Age Ageing (2018). doi:10.1093/ageing/afy128