The assumption I will make is that most of us, at some point, have hung around someone who appeared to be sick and became concerned with catching their sickness. Indeed it’s true that you might catch whichever cold they carry, but have you ever considered how contagious moods are as well? Researchers found that through a process called ‘social contagion’ moods can spread from one person to the next. So in essence moods are contagious. No doubt most of us have experienced how others’ bad moods can affect us negatively, but what about positive emotions, can they be contagious?
Recent researcher from Harvard University’s Nicholas Christakis suggests that happiness, like the flu, can spread from person to person. When close people to us, in terms of relationships, or even physical proximity become happier, we do too. For example, when a person who lives within a mile of a good friend becomes happier, the probability that this person’s good friend will also become happier increases by 15%. An even more striking finding in this study suggests that the effect can go beyond direct links and reach a third degree of separation: When a friend of a friend becomes happier, we become happier, even when we don’t know that third person directly!
Interestingly, the concept of ‘social contagion” also explains why the old notion of trying to become happier by comparing yourself to the less fortunate (i.e. those who have more troubled relationships, less money, worse health, etc…) does not often work. You see if we compare ourselves to those who suffer more, and thus have more negative moods, we expose ourselves to the negative moods as well. So, if we accept that moods are contagious, then comparing oneself to the less fortunate can actually affect you more negatively than uplift your spirits. The key takeaway is that if we surround ourselves with happier people, it’s not only good for our well-being, it will make us happier, them happier, and those who are close to them happier! Just another small reminder why your mom was right when she told you to ”choose your friends carefully”.