Proximity of positive people: they’re contagious

Proximity: n.the state of being near or next; closeness.

Positive: n. characterized by acceptance, affirmation. Opposite of negative.

Have you ever noticed that happy people seem to attract other happy people? Or that when you’re unhappy,  it’s harder to find happy people nearby?

Evidently it’s not all in your mind. A new study by researchers James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis published in a British medical journal proposes that:

…happiness is transmitted through social networks, almost like a germ is spread through personal contact.

It’s the latest in a growing body of work investigating how our social connections–neighbors, friends, family, co-workers, fellow congregants at church and other associates–affect us. The premise is that we live in a social environment that shapes what we do and how we think and feel.

“We’ve known for some time that social relationships are the best predictor of human happiness, and this paper shows that the effect is much more powerful than anyone realized,” said Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” and a professor of psychology at Harvard University…

Their primary finding: People who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to be happy themselves. And it’s not only people in our immediate circles who make a difference–it’s the people surrounding the people we know.

Imagine several pebbles thrown into a pool of water that send ripples outward, said Fowler, an associate professor of political science. Each pebble represents a happy person and the waves the impact of that person’s mood on others. This impact, his study found, extends through several degrees of separation, to the friends of a person’s friends.

My ex  struggled with depression for decades before finally being diagnosed bi-polar and prescribed meds. He would sit reading in his favorite chair with a dense black cloud swirling all around him, saying, “Don’t mind me. Just go about your business and I’ll snap out of it in a few days.”

He could never figure out why this put other members of the household in such a funk.

When we separated and I found myself a circle of happy friends, my own outlook grew sunny again.  But this poses a dilemma – if you have an unhappy loved one you want to support, how do you maintain your own positive disposition?

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One response to “Proximity of positive people: they’re contagious

  1. It’s very difficult indeed. I’m like a sponge.

    I’m a convert to talking therapy for the unhappy person. I’ve seen Cognitive Therapy work wonders on three people. They continue to use what they’ve learned and develop on it.

    I think it would be everyone should have easy access to good therapy – especially some of our so-called leaders.