The 20th March 2018 marks the 5th International Day of Happiness. The day was the idea of United Nations special advisor Jayme Illien, which was adopted by the United Nations and is now celebrated annually by the 193 United Nations member states. It is a day when people throughout the world are encouraged to create more happiness in their lives and in the lives of others.

The theme for International Day of Happiness 2018 is ‘Share Happiness’ with the central focus on the importance of relationships, kindness and helping each other. In our positive psychology courses we cover the research into how people can be happier and work with people to discover the ways which work best for them to increase their happiness. We pose the question, “is focusing on your own happiness a selfish thing to do?” This question always generates lots of discussion as people go back and forth as to whether concentrating on our own happiness is selfish. A longitudinal study carried out over 20 years, which included 5,000 participants suggests that focusing on your own happiness isn’t a selfish thing to do.

Happiness contagion

Co-author of the research study, Dr Nicholas A. Christakis said “your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know, who are one, two and three degrees removed from you.” Fellow co-author and Associate Professor, James H. Fowler, said of the research “if your friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy, that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket.”

This finding has been termed the ‘Happiness Contagion’ and it shows that if an individual is happy then it has a ripple effect of happiness for the network of friends and beyond, which can last up to 12 months. People are often surprised and dubious about this research when they question how by you being happy it can increase the happiness of your friend’s friend’s friend, who you may not even know or never have met. Think about the opposite of this for a moment, if your friend is unhappy because their friend was in a foul mood, then this could make you unhappy as your friend is upset. As a result of this you may go home to a loved one and your grumpiness may cause an atmosphere in the house, leading to your loved one to feel unhappy.

Share Happiness

A famous piece of positive psychology research into happiness relates to random acts of kindness. The findings of the studies show that when we carry out a random act of kindness for another person, it has double the impact on happiness. What I mean by this is that the person on the receiving end of the act of kindness feels happier that someone else has done something kind without being asked to and at the same time the person carrying out the act of kindness feels an increase in happiness knowing that they have done something kind for another person. Let’s consider a simple example that I recently witnessed, a person was at the counter to pay for their petrol when they realised that they had left their purse at home. In their deep distress that they couldn’t pay for their petrol and as they rummaged in their bag to try to locate their purse, the person behind them in the queue kindly paid for the person’s petrol. The relief and joy of the person who had left their purse behind was met by the beaming smile of the person who was able to help them out.

The random act of kindness can be something very simple such as making coffee for the team at work, leaving a note of appreciation for someone you love or helping a stranger in need of assistance. This way you will be creating and sharing happiness with others.

So today on International Day of Happiness 2018 and this year’s theme of ‘Share Happiness’, research suggests the best way to share happiness is to carry out random acts of kindness and to focus on being happier yourself as that will then spark the Happiness Contagion.

From Positive Psychology Learning, we wish you a very happy International Day of Happiness 2018!