Once again, research threatens to vindicate an old intuitive idea: that the emotional states of happiness and sadness can be contagious, spreading between individuals in much the same way that flu does. The bad news? It looks like sadness is far more virulent than happiness…
In the current study, Hill’s team compared patterns of relationships and emotions measured in the study to those generated by a model designed to track SARS, foot-and-mouth disease and other traditional contagions. They discounted spontaneous or immediately shared emotion — friends or relatives undergoing a common experience — and focused on emotional changes that followed changes in others.
In the spread of happiness, the researchers found clusters of “infected” and “uninfected” people, a pattern considered a “hallmark of the infectious process,” said Hill. “For happiness, clustering is what you expect from contagion rates. Whereas for sadness, the clusters were much larger than we’d expect. Something else is going on.”
Happiness proved less social than sadness. Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11 percent, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy.
At this point it’s worth remembering (as the researchers themselves point out) that correlation isn’t causation:
Both Hill and Rand warned that the findings illustrate broad, possible dynamics, and are not intended to guide personal decisions, such as withdrawing from friends who are having a hard time.
“The better solution is to make your sad friends happy,” said Rand.
Amen to that.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered that writing about emotional trauma increases your sense of well being:
Researchers asked 49 college students to take two minutes on two consecutive days and write about something they found to be emotionally important. The student saw immediate rise in mood and performed better on standardized measures of physiological well-being.
One of the key points of the study was that the length of time spent writing required to achieve beneficial effects was lower than previously thought.
As with keeping a diary, getting your thoughts down in text can be an aid to happiness as well as helping with your writing ability.
[via Jon Taplin][image from zenera on flickr]
The sense that things are getting worse and worse is supported by the various imminent cataclysms of global warming, peak oil, antibiotic resistant diseases, fundamentalist terrorists, social collapse and an intrusive state.
However it seems people have been getting happier, from researchers at The World Values Society at the University of Michigan:
Economic growth, democratization and rising social tolerance have all contributed to rising happiness, with democratization and rising tolerance having even more impact than economic growth. All of these changes have contributed to providing people with a wider range of choice in how to live their lives—which is a key factor in happiness.
This is just fine and dandy. But when Tom Harris MP suggested that people should be grateful for their increased wealth (the UK) and freedom (many other places) he was mauled by the Press.
It is interesting that on the one hand people are predicting all the ills I mentioned above, and on the other you have Ray Kurzweil and the World Values Society pointing out that things are about to get a lot better and that people are feeling happier respectively.
I look forward to finding out who is correct.
[story via PhysOrg]