It’s bad news when someone in your family or at the office has a cold or tummy upset as there is a good chance that you’ll catch virus too. But what if they could infect you with something that would actually make you feel well rather than ill? What if this something could potentially increase your physical, psychological and emotional health, lead to you becoming more success in your job, in your relationships and could even extend your lifespan? Too good to be true? Well, actually no! There is something that can be spread from person to person, which is contagious just like a virus and has been shown by validated scientific research to have a very positive effect on people. It’s called – HAPPINESS!
Data collected by the Framingham Heart Study, (a project that studied 4,700 people for over 20 years and produced detailed maps of their social networks), reveals that happiness is contagious. It spreads amongst people just like the flu, affecting people who may not even know each other.
Researchers Christakis and Fowler discovered that what we say and do tends to ripple through our social network and impact on those we know, but also those we don’t. One example is how happiness can spread from one person to others, by up to three degrees of separation. For instance, if you become happy or happier, it is very likely to affect the happiness of your friends (one degree), your friends’ friends (two degrees) and your friends’ friends’,friends (three degrees). The effect does fades as it travels but is still significant, and although sadness can spread too, its impact is much weaker than that of happiness.
So, if you want to be happy, have happy friends! After all, it makes sense that being with happy people will have a positive influence on how you feel. Positive Psychology has shown that the characteristics and habits of people who flourish and succeed in life are mainly attributed to behaviours that we can learn and apply in our own lives too. The more of us who are happy, the more of us will be happy, including those who will be accidentally ‘infected’ along the way.
An explosion of happiness
If this effect can be experienced in social networks, imagine what would happen if there was a conscious decision to increase happiness not just for a few but for a whole population? Well, this is happening in UAE and it’s very exciting. There has already been an initiative to increase happiness in the region and the UAE cabinet chaired over by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, have endorsed the launch of corporate happiness and positivity initiatives in the UAE Federal Government. Now, Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness has announced that it will expand its ‘chief happiness and positivity’ programme to the private sector after it success in the government sector.
Not a soft option
Happiness may sound a soft, utopian goal to many, but the science of positive psychology has shown that is in indeed the opposite. Happiness is the precursor to success and not the other way around. Happy people create successful businesses, productive environments, caring and compassionate communities with healthy and flourishing people. Who doesn’t want to live in a happier world?
The biggest barrier to happiness
So, if happiness is so infectious, why aren’t we all happy? Well, it seems the biggest barrier is being happy is ourselves! Humans are particularly bad at knowing what makes them really happy. They frequently chase happiness in directions that bring disappointment rather than joy and temporary pleasure that often ends in pain. Ironically, the search for happiness is one of the most common causes of unhappiness!
There is a solution though and it’s provided by Positive Psychology, which explains happiness from the perspective of reliable scientific research. Happiness is something that should not be pursued as a goal because in truth, happiness is both an outcome and a dynamic process. There is no generic ‘happiness formula’, you need to discover what works for you in your own unique way. This is the key for you being able to become happier and Positive Psychology can provide you with many clues to find it. Almost of all of us will discover that happiness is already present in our lives once we focus our attention and change our perspective of what really matters to us. Meaning and purpose always trumps pleasure in the happiness stakes, but a good helping of both makes life feel good and rewarding.
Once we understand what authentic happiness is and what matters to us in life, then we can begin to increase our experience of it. However, if our aim is to increase the subjective happiness of people in organisations, institutions, families, communities and large populations, we first need to be able to measure our progress, otherwise how will we know if we have been successful?
“ Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” – H. J. Harrington
Happiness is a dynamic, ongoing process that has the potential to change the world, one person at a time and it can start today with you!
Positive Psychology Learning have recently been working in UAE using the science of Positive Psychology to assist with the Happiness Initiative by providing happiness education, happiness strategies and measuring happiness outcomes.