Happiness Contagion

Do contagions of Happiness course through social media? Do you find yourself passing on the uplift? If so, what form does it take? Good news? Hero stories? Bird formation videos? Or garden variety Comedy Central clips?


According to a 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal, (see link below) Happiness, like smoking, weight gain and weight loss, is catch-able. Researchers Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD of Harvard Medical School and James H. Fowler, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, conclude that having a large hub of friends equates to higher levels of happiness, and that this influence extends beyond our immediate circle of BFFs.

Scientific American online had this take:

A happy person within a social circle quickly influences those around him or her to be happy, extending to three degrees of separation.

Aha! So that’s why everyone collects Friends and Followers? To pursue the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence, “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness”?

Happiness, like optimism, is apparently more influential than sadness or pessimism. So we are neurologically wired for elation infections? Joy epidemics? What does this mean for effective social media messaging?

In this fascinating recent TedTalks, Tali Sharot discusses the ways our brains have been wired for the bright side, and how this affects our decision-making and world view.

On the sharing side of social media, do those who pass on comedy, uplifting quotes, and how-to solutions simply have more friends? Is that why some pass on nature-awe videos like Murmuration, “A chance encounter and shared moment with one of natures greatest and most fleeting phenomena”?:

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

while others prefer a Double Rainbow?

Is promoting the positive a key to social media success? How do we define positivity for the internetworks, when changemaking and innovation often means naming problems, exposing broken pieces of outmoded systems, and shedding light on the shadow side of humanity? How can creativity spin these important stories toward share-ability?

“Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study” British Medical Journal Published online 2008 December 4
Happiness is contagious: study” Reuters, December 5, 2008
Happiness is contagious in Social Networks” CNN, Elizabeth Landau, December 5, 2008.
Happiness Is Contagious” Scientific American online (podcast) by Adam Hinterthuer, December 5, 2008.
RIP Meme: The Double Rainbow Guy Sells Out to Microsoft” Mashable, Brenna Ehrlich, September 2, 2010.

There are 7 comments

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  1. Veronika jokel

    I definitely consider myself an optimist and believe in the good of humankind. I think that humans by nature (although can’t look away from a train wreck) would prefer to share good and humorous news then news  that is considered negative. As shown in the Tedtalks video people were more likely to change their views when told of positive information rather then negative. For example the people that believed they had a 50 percent chance of getting cancer, when told it was a 30% chance changed their beliefs to 35%. However people that believed it was only 10% chance and heard the real statistics (which were negative in comparison) only budged up to 11%. Obviously it is necessary to be realistic as well as optimistic, but positivity overall will triumph in the world of social media.

  2. Peta Mni

    While I consider myself an optimist, with age I’ve tried to adjust my expectations and leverage some good old fashion skepticism towards everything. Not so much “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” rather I work to accept what is. I do my best and accept that I’ve done so regardless of outcome while believing I could always do better. Any good fortune is a great blessing and likewise all failures are great lessons. Not sure if that’s what Tali Sharot meant but it works for me.

  3. Natasha

    To me that’s absolutely obvious that people are more likely to respond to the optimistic information more than to negative one. People reach out to optimism that delivers them happiness, even though sometimes our expectations are not met, we still tend to think positively (excluding the people who suffer from depression). On my personal experience I can say that when I am being optimistic and it turns out to be bad I still say to myself it is not the worst that could have happen. Happiness gives us the ability to look forward to future which we cannot predict, and of course good is always better. 

  4. Kathleen

    I personally am an optimist. However in the TED talk, I would consider myself the penguin that jumps off the cliff with the parachute attached….just in case. As I meet more and more people, I am always taken back by some of their pessimistic perspectives on life. For instance, from their pessimistic point of view, everyones intentions are bad until proven otherwise, not the other way around. There seems to be this severe skepticism and suspicion of everyone. Their mind immediately goes to the worst senereo. What I also find is curious, is to question what a pessimist’s point of view of an optimist? drawing from the negative people I have encountered…it seems they are jealous of people who are happy. Or find it really annoying…as if…how dare you to enjoy life like you do? Its interesting to observe. Its a victim mentality that the pessimist’s succumb to. It is also a mentality that optimists have a difficult time understanding and tolerating. 

  5. Jazmin

    Although my upbringing lack off sharing
    to everyone my personal happy moments. I can understand how
    optimistic, fulfilling, happy situations can be of interest to
    certain or a broader group of people. We emphasize/sympathize with
    optimistic moments. We tend to lean more over optimism to experience
    that ourselves while watching other people in different positive
    situations. It’s like a drug, you just want to be high on happiness,
    and it’s definitely contagious. Although yes, love and optimism seem
    to be very popular, it would be interesting to research on what is it
    that people look for the most, happy or bad, impacting moments. Like
    in the TED talk she said there is also a group of pessimists, and
    people do tend to look for videos of other people having a bad time,
    which can give a negative impact or be just funny. We tend to laugh
    at other people disgrace. Anyway, I do consider to be an optimistic
    myself. I found that certainly, like a lot of other people, find
    myself being a part of the unrealistic group. But what I can say
    for sure is that being optimistic and sympathetic towards other
    people and their happy moments, can make a person happier than be a
    total realistic. I’ll definitely take the advice that Tali Sharot
    discussed on her talk. Be more prepared in life, like the penguins,
    and not just listen to my optimism bias.  

  6. Larry

    Thanks for posting some of these clips…this topic really makes you think about the power of laughter, and how so few people actually enjoy being happy.  I don’t believe any of them set out to be pessimistic or negative, but arrived at that point due to difficult life experiences.  Since happiness is not the norm for most…individuals are directed to a point of view based on fear, suspicion, and sadness.  I’ve often wondered where it is people lose their inner child:  is it a line clearly drawn by a single event, or did it gradually disappear based on many small negative experiences?  It is probably a combination, and most people don’t even know it is happening.  My guess is they wake up one day and find themselves shackled to a life view that benefits no one…especially them.  The videos in question are definitely a path in the right direction.

  7. Josh B

    Promoting positive using comedy or any sort of entertainment has now had a rather successful track record for influence awareness and education. A good joke is always going to catch mass attention versus a whitepaper or a press release on a social issue. The success of comedy shows and parodies with an underlying message have been extremely effective in promoting ideas. Laughter is but one, but probably the more important of the different ways to promote a message. 

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