Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Build a Happiness Network!

I'm absolutely delighted right now. And why wouldn't I be? We're in the midst of a major storm system. I had to cancel my evening dinner with a friend because of the weather. I have a huge pile of editing work to get through before I can even think about my own writing project. We have a leaky pipe in the basement. The squirrels have moved into my attic. Oh yeah, and the skunk family is back living under my front porch. Still, I'm beaming. Why?

I just learned that happiness is contagious. I have a 7-year-old daughter in the next room who is laughing right now. Every few minutes she runs past my office giggling or stops in to tell me something silly. I could be annoyed by this. After all, I'm trying to work, and work is serious business. But I'm not annoyed. 

I now know that being directly connected to a happy person makes me 15 percent more likely to be happy. So I am. But don't feel bad if you don't have a contagiously happy person in your home or immediate circle. Researchers James H. Fowler (UCSD) and Nicholas A. Christakis (Harvard Medical School) found that you can increase your happiness by 7 percent if a friend of a friend is happy. Even if a friend of a friend of a friend is happy—your happiness increases by 6 percent. Similar effects are found if your neighbors are happy. Crazy, eh?

Crazy and wonderful. Because get this: happiness spreads more quickly than sadness in a network. According to the CNN report, "Each happy friend increases your own chance of being happy by 9 percent, whereas each unhappy friend decreases it by 7 percent." (Elizabeth Landau, CNN, "Happiness is Contagious in Social Networks".)

So why care about being happy? After spending the last three years studying the field of positive psychology, I know that happy people live longer, produce more, are healthier, more satisfied with their work, and are less likely to suffer from depression. In fact, happiness is sees as so beneficial, the remote kingdom of Bhutan has put happiness at the heart of government policy. In addition, the World Health Organization has recently considered happiness as a key component to health.

Looking for a happier 2009? Don't wait. Start building your happiness network right now. Here are some ideas:  
*Hang out with the happiest people in your family, neighborhood, or circle of friends. 
*Network with happy people. Go to networking meetings, book groups, church, synagogue, or a volunteer organization—and sit by the people who are smiling or laughing. 
*Build your happiness network by inviting one happy person to have coffee with you.
*Connect with young people. Two years after starting the Dream Keepers Teen Writing Group, I realize that our meetings always improve my mood. Why? The young people tend to be more happy and hopeful than I am. I need that. You do, too.
*Connect to happy people online. The researchers in this study are currently researching Facebook to find out if smiling users are have friends who smile. Next time you consider a friend request, look to see if the person is smiling. (And don't forget to smile in your photo!)
*Line your home and office with photos of happy people from your family and extended network. Every time you look at one of those pictures, you'll feel happier. 

Okay, I'm off to play snow tag with a seven-year-old. Go and do likewise!

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