Share Your Happiness, It Is Contagious
Knowing that happiness is contagious should be an inspiration to openly share as much of it as possible.
What is Happiness
As noted by Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry:”We can view happiness in at least three ways — as a hedonic state, as a cognitive state or as a general life philosophy. Happiness, then, can refer to a way of thinking, such as being optimistic; a way of feeling joy, pleasure, relief or gratitude; or simply a way of being.”
Of the many strategies investigated for their potential to trigger happiness, gratitude is the #1 contender.
Physical beauty and money, for example, have only a limited influence on a person’s level of happiness.
As noted by the Harvard Review: “In the end, a sense of gratitude for what we have may be what heartens us: Classic studies that compared the emotional well–being of lottery winners, paraplegics and quadriplegics found all three groups had similar levels of current happiness, suggesting that once the initial windfall or trauma fades, we adapt to change and return to our original hedonic setpoint.”
Having strong, healthy relationships with others is another, and perhaps the most important, factor for happiness.
A lengthy study found that a person’s capacity for loving relationships was in fact the only factor that could predict life satisfaction in older men.
Researchers have also shown that happiness has distinct epigenetic influence on our biology, lowering inflammatory gene expression and strengthening antiviral and antibody responses, for example.
So, in essence, by spreading happiness and joy, by default we are spreading improved health.
Interestingly, while unhappiness has also been shown to spread among people, the “infectiousness” of happiness is actually far stronger than that of unhappiness, a finding that offers food for thought if you’re in contact with someone who is in pain.
That said, pessimism can have a significant impact on one’s health.
A recent study found that having a pessimistic attitude may shave more than 14 years off the average lifespan, increasing your risk of dying before the age of 65 by as much as 25%
Gratitude has been shown to deliver a long list of beneficial health effects, including improved ability to cope with stress, reduced anxiety, improved sleep and better heart health.
Studies have also shown that gratitude can produce measurable effects on a number of systems in your body, including but not limited to, as follows:
- Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine), as well as cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)
- Reproductive hormones (testosterone)
- Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)
- Blood pressure and cardiac and EEG rhythms
- Blood sugar
- Habits That Promote Happiness
While happiness may seem elusive some times, we can in fact improve your odds of feeling happy, joyful and content.
Consistently happy people tend to have habits that set them apart from their sad and stressed-out peers, such as letting go of grudges, treating people with kindness, dreaming big, not sweating the small stuff and much more.
The list below includes “Rx’s” from psychologists that are known to boost your happiness level, as follows:
- Make happiness your goal: The 1st step toward greater happiness is to choose it. You need to believe that happiness is possible, and that you deserve it. Research shows that the mere intention to become happier actually makes a big difference.
- Identify that which makes you happy: If it has been awhile since you’ve felt truly happy , you may have forgotten what it is that gets you there. Take time to reflect on what gives you joy.
- Make happiness a priority: If you have a free hour, do you spend it doing something fun? Or do you spend it catching up on housework, tackling an extra work project, or otherwise working? The latter is a “minor form of insanity,” according to happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener, Ph.D. It certainly will not help you get happier. To break free of this trap, make a point to schedule your weeks around events or ordinary activities that make you feel happy and alive.
- Savor pleasant moments: People who take the time to savor pleasant moments report higher levels of happiness, regardless of where the day takes them. If you don’t already do this, keeping a daily diary of pleasant moments and whether or not you truly savored them, may help. You might be surprised at how much happiness is to be had in your everyday life. Try appreciating the scent of your coffee, relishing in the feeling of your soft bed or enjoying the sunrise before you start your day.
- Ditch unnecessary and joyless distractions: There’s only so much time in a day, so be sure to protect your attention and time from unnecessary and unproductive distractions. This includes texts, tweets and emails, which take you away from the true pleasures in life. If necessary, turn off social media completely. Simply thinking about something positive, and smiling as a result, can make you happier and more upbeat. A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to improved mood.
- Prioritize experiences over things: Research suggests experiences make us happier than possessions; the “newness” of possessions wears off, as does the joy they bring you, but experiences improve your sense of vitality and “being alive,” both during the experience and when you reflect back on it.
- Have a back-up plan for bad days: When you’re having a bad day and your mood is sinking, have a plan in place to lift it back up. This could be calling a close friend, watching a comedy or going out for a jog, whatever works best for you
- Identify your sense of purpose: Happiness isn’t about pleasure alone; it’s also about having a sense of purpose. The term “eudaimonic well-being” originated with Aristotle, and describes the form of happiness that comes from activities that bring you a greater sense of purpose, life meaning or self-actualization. This could be your career, or it could be gleaned from volunteering or even taking a cooking class.
- Socialize, even with strangers: Having meaningful social relationships is important for happiness, but even people who engage in “social snacking” report greater happiness. Social snacking describes the little ways you connect with others, including strangers, on a daily basis. In general, the more you mingle and chat with the people around you, the more cheerful and brighter your mood is likely to be. Taking time away from the daily grind is important for helping you recharge. And while even a weekend getaway can give you a boost, a longer trip is better to help you create meaningful memories. These memories can be tapped into later to help boost your happiness. Experts recommend a two-week vacation, ideally, even if it’s to a locale close to home.
- Spend more time outdoors: Exposure to bright outdoor light is crucial for a positive mood, in part because regular exposure to sunlight will helps to enhance your mood and energy through the release of endorphins. Getting Sun exposure outdoors will also help you optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as more chronic depression.
- Practice kindness: When people make a point to conduct three to five acts of kindness a week, something magical happens. They become happier. Simple kind acts: a compliment, letting someone ahead of you in line, paying for someone’s coffee are contagious and tend to make all of those involved feel good.
Emotions such as happiness “can pulse through social networks,” spreading from person to person.
Get happy, Stay happy, Spread happiness
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