If you didn’t get the memo, happiness pays.
According to leading happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, happiness makes people more sociable, strengthens their immune system, builds more satisfying relationships, improves productivity, lengthens people’s life, and generally makes people more successful in life.
The state of happiness literally primes your mind and body for peak performance. Shawn Achor, another leading researcher in this field, explains, “It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive. Yet in today’s world, we ironically sacrifice happiness for success only to lower our brain’s success rates.”
Sounds great. Then what can we do to improve our levels of happiness?
One thing to pay close attention to is your environment, especially the people around you. Their psychological states are the master key to yourpsychological state…
“Man Is Not an Island”
Sometimes we forget that we are all interconnected. We are part of one family, one nation, one humanity, one earth, one universe, one cosmos. We are not separate entities. I am affected by you and you are affected by me. How you feel affects how I feel. And how I feel affects how you feel.
It’s the environment around us that dictates how we feel. If we’re living in a place full of happiness, then we’ll be positively affected. If we’re living in an environment full of misery and despair, then we’ll be negatively affected.
Osho, the great Indian mystic, says that if we want to be happy, we must help others to be happy in order to create the atmosphere of happiness around us:
“The more you seek your happiness the more you will help others to be happy. Because that is the only way to be happy in the world. If everybody else around you is unhappy, you cannot be happy, because man is not an island. He is part of the vast continent. If you want to be happy, you will have to help others who surround you to be happy. Then — and only then — can you be happy.”
“You have to create the atmosphere of happiness around you. If everybody is miserable, how can you be happy? You will be affected. You are not a stone, you are a very delicate being, very sensitive. If everybody is miserable around you, their misery will affect you. Misery is as infectious as any disease. Blissfulness is also infectious as any disease. If you help others to be happy, in the end you help yourself to be happy. A person who is deeply interested in his happiness is always interested in others’ happiness also.”
You are not an island. You are part of the environment around you and you are strongly influenced by it. If your environment is full of misery, you will become miserable, too. If your environment is full of love, joy, and happiness, then you will become more loving, joyful, and happy, too.
We experience this all the time in our daily lives. One grumpy friend has the power to drag everyone else around him down. And one joyous friend has the power to lift up all the people around him.
It’s like Joseph Campbell says, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” The influence of happy people around you happiness you.
Therefore, if you want to be happy, you must create an environment of happiness around you. We’ll discuss how to do this later in this article. For now, let’s look at some fascinating research that proves this “theory”.
I Influence You. You Influence Me.
Not yet convinced that my emotional, physical, or physiological state has a strong influence on you? Consider the following experiment that was repeated in 148 10-minute trials:
Four people were seated together at a table. Three of those people were skilled in achieving high states of heart rate variability (HRV) coherence* and one person wasn’t.
*(Coherence is an optimal state characterized by smooth, or balanced heart rhythms and the harmonious function of the body’s mental, emotional and physical systems.)
In the beginning, the four people are just sitting there with the instructions of doing nothing in particular. Then, at random times, the trained participants are signaled to shift into a coherent state. The goal is to determine if the three person’s collective coherence can influence and raise the untrained person’s coherence.
Steve Morris, the author of this study, presents the findings, “The HRV of the untrained subject was found to be higher in approximately half of all matched comparisons when the trained participants focused on achieving increased coherence.”
When the three trained people at the table changed their heart rhythms into a coherent state, the fourth person’s heart rhythm also changed into a more coherent state (at least 50% of the time). Note that these people didn’t start smiling, laughing, dancing around, or anything like that. They only changed their heart rhythms. And that alone was enough to change the heart rhythm of the other person.
Just imagine what happens if you’re surrounded by a bunch of happy, content, relaxed, and joyful human beings. It’s impossible that these people’s hormones, heart rhythms, breathing rhythms, energies, thoughts, and emotions won’t affect you. You will literally be infected by their positive vibes.
Psychological states (such as happiness or misery) are contagious. Let’s look at even more research to back this up.
Oh, and check out this video with a great explanation of HRV coherence and how the study above exactly worked (watch it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1EesqUtKyE
Happiness Is Contagious
Harvard researchers followed 4,739 people for 20 years, measuring how siblings, friends, neighbors, and social networks are affected by the happiness of others.
Some of their findings include:
- If a friend who lives within half a mile of you gets happy, your chances of happiness increase by 42%.
- If that happy friend lives a mile away from you, your chances of happiness increase “only” by 25%.
- Siblings who live close to a happy sibling increase their chances of happiness by 14%.
- Next door neighbors of a happy person get a 35% higher likelihood of happiness.
Dr. Christakis, one of the authors of this study, explains about the findings, “You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience, but it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected. Happiness is contagious.”
His co-author, James H. Fowler, adds, “We need to think of happiness as a collective phenomenon. If I come home in a bad mood, I may be missing an opportunity to make not just my wife and son happy, but their friends.”
Happiness is a collective phenomenon. The happier the people around you, the happier you will be as well.
And just imagine, if one happy friend can increase your chances for happiness by 42%, what can two, five, ten, or fifty happy friends do for you? Also, imagine what two, five, ten, or fifty unhappy, grumpy, annoyed, sad, or otherwise psychologically negative people in your environment can do.
There’s no doubt that your environment has a huge impact on your levels of happiness. Let’s now look at a couple of ways you can mold your environment to become more happiness-supporting.
How to Create a Happiness-Supporting Environment
Four strategies to make use of the information presented in this article:
Don’t be a dick to other people. If you’re alienating other people, you are really harming yourself. For every time you’re making someone feel bad, theirpsychological state now negatively influences you and pulls you down. That means: don’t condemn others, don’t scream at them, don’t belittle them, don’t embarrass them, don’t make them feel guilty, don’t make them feel inferior. Bottom line, don’t make other people feel bad — their negative feelings will only come back haunting you.
Make other people happy. Not making others feel bad is just the first step. What about actively trying to make them feel good? For when you make people around you happy, their happiness will infect you and lift your spirits. Therefore, always try to make the people around you better off: make’em a compliment, let them know you appreciate them, do something nice for them, help them out when they’ve got a problem, listen to them. (Go first.)
Get rid of negative people (or spend less time with them). If someone is constantly bringing your mood and energy down, tell them to man up or read a book about optimism or something. If they don’t change, either spend less time with them or just cancel the friendship. You don’t want to be infected with all that negativity.
Be happy yourself. Last but not least, work on your own happiness (science offers lots of practical strategies). Remember, you are being influenced by the environment around you, but since you’re part of the environment, you are also influencing it. By bringing your own happiness up, you increase other people’s happiness which will then again bring your happiness up and so on. It’s like Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says, “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people is to be happy yourself.”
What I love about all of this is its controversy. On the one hand, you’re being selfish because your goal is to be happy (after all, you could also be completely unselfish by offering yourself as food to a starving grizzly bear). On the other hand, that selfishness forces you to become unselfish and care for the well-being of others. Because being happy is only possible if your environment is in good shape as well.
Now it’s your turn. Let me know how you’re going to use the information in this article in the comments below.
P.S. For more on happiness, check out my guide on becoming happier: 26 Science-Based Strategies To Be Happy