happy contagion

The pursuit of happiness is a bit selfish, right? Well, no, not really.  Happy individuals are more likely to contribute to society, and their joy is capable of increasing the happiness of community members.  Does the logic sound sketchy?  Here are some facts:

  • Personal suffering takes up a lot of time and energy.  It’s difficult to think about the concerns of the community until you’re comfortable with your own situation.   Happy people, by contrast, are less concerned with their own well-being, and more likely to spend time solving social problems.  Scientists have confirmed a link between happiness and volunteerism.  It seems happy people are consistently looking to give back to the community that fulfills them.  You know the saying misery loves company? Well so does happiness. When you’re happy, you want to share your joy with the people around you.
  • Scientists have confirmed that the happiest people are social creatures that are actively involved in the lives of the people around them.  Surprised?  As a category, social people are more likely to be happy than individuals with hefty bank accounts, regular exercise regimens, or rewarding careers.  A strong social network ensures that we’re aware of the needs of the people around us.  Your sister is going to the airport?  Offer her a ride.  A friend is nervous about a doctor appointment?  Tag along for moral support.
  • Happiness is contagious (emotional contagion) and simply being happy increases the joy of the people around you.  You know about the yawn effect, right?  You yawn and then suddenly the people around you are yawning too?  Well emotions, including happiness, work in a similar way.   Notably, social scientists have confirmed that happiness extends to 3 degrees of separation – that means that your happiness is capable of increasing the happiness of your sister, your sister’s friend, and your sister’s friend’s mom.  Incredible, right?  What’s more, if you’re going through a slump, having a network of happy people increases your chances of becoming happy in the future.  Investing in happy friends almost seems like an insurance policy for a happy future, right?

If being happy is key to increasing the happiness of others, then it almost seems like a duty to make ourselves happy, right?  What little things do you do to increase your own happiness?

go overboard

Research by Professor David Rand at Harvard University suggests that children and adults have an innate desire to strengthen the community. Children are quick to react to the impulse, but adults are more likely to pause, consider how the community will judge their behavior, and refrain from helping.

Dale Miller, Director of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Center for Social Innovation, reasons that people fear being seen as opportunistic or self-interested, and so they refrain from publicly helping others. Moreover, people fear that seemingly selfless actions will inspire cynicism and suspicion from peers.

Luckily, Professor Miller is working to overturn the Darwinian theory of self-interest, and arguing that compassion motivates people to help others (not self-interest!). He contends that people who overcame hardship practice altruism to return the favor and help the people around them. Altruistic individuals understand suffering and have a sincere desire to alleviate it.

What do you think?  Are you quick to help others?  Do you worry that people will think you have selfish motives?

PS- The awesome hoop art was made by StitchCulture. Check out her Etsy shop and say hello!