So this past week work stayed crazy, the weather was annoying, and I had yet another cold. Despite all that, I was in a great mood. Why?
- We celebrated my sister Audrey’s birthday.
- A coworker’s cancer was officially declared to be in remission.
- A friend’s son received early admission into his first choice for college.
- My best friend Katie gave birth to her second child!!!
With all the joy and good news around me, there was no way anything was going to bring me down.
So I got to thinking about the way that happiness is contagious, and then did some serious research to see if science supported my thoughts (spoiler alert: it does). Here’s why it’s good to spread joy around:
Sharing Good News Helps Everyone
One recent study looked at the benefit of talking about happy events, and found that “participants who had shared their grateful experiences with a partner reported significantly more satisfaction with life, more happiness, and more vitality than participants in either control condition. This indicates that there are salutary benefits unique to sharing one’s grateful experiences with another person” (Lambert et al. 2013). In other words, you can extend your own joy by telling someone else, and the benefits go beyond the immediate boost and create a more sustained level of happiness.
You don’t even have to worry about being selfish, because when you share your joy, you also help the person you’re sharing with. Another study found that someone’s happiness can “extend up to three degrees of separation (for example, to one’s friends’ friends’ friends)” (BMJ 2008). Katie’s baby girl, for example, makes Katie happy (of course), then that happiness spread to me, and I was so excited that I was showing pictures to everyone I saw, even if they don’t know Katie, which made a lot of them happy…and so on.
Seeking Good News Helps Everyone
The BMJ research shows us that hearing about other people’s happiness can boost our own, so it stands to reason that we should seek opportunities to do so. Sometimes people are hesitant to share good news, because they don’t want to feel like they’re bragging. So that’s the first reason to get in the habit of asking others what’s going on in their lives, with a focus on positive topics. I like asking people questions about their hobbies and interests, which usually leads to stories with smiles.
Another reason we don’t always hear happy things from others is because of what psychologists call “negativity bias”, which means that people tend to consider, remember, and react to negative things more than positive things, even though the average person has three times as many positive experiences. Getting someone to talk about the good stuff encourages them to think about the good stuff, which is, again, good for both of you. Sometimes I’m completely direct and just say, “Tell me something good that happened today”. (I frequently do this in meetings when people have been complaining for a while, and it often helps clear the air.)
The most important thing is to make sure that people know you’re interested in what they have to say, whether it’s good or bad…but don’t forget the good. Sharing and seeking joy is good for everyone.
Share something happy in the comments!