Happiness is Contagious

Xperience Growthblogposts

Some people call it the “Ha Ha Game.” Some call it the “Belly Laugh Game.” Either way, I bet you’ve done it.

In this game, you get a group of people to lay down on the floor with each person’s head on another person’s belly. Within moments, the entire group is laughing uncontrollably.

I remember doing this as a kid. It was so fun! I recall the laughter starting off like popcorn pops. One here, a little bit there and then almost instantaneously the entire group was laughing. The vibrations in the person’s belly I was laying on and the constant bursts of laughter that I heard over the rest of the group kept me stitches. The only way to stop the collective laughter was to get the group to stand up.

I’m not sure that this game qualifies as a legitimate experience. It is clear, though, that the laughter in that game is contagious.

Just like we can “catch” laughter from someone, we can also catch happiness from other people.

The term for this is emotional contagion. Research proves moods can pass from one person to another, just like a cold. We can catch happiness. We can also catch negative moods. This post is about happiness, though, so I’m going to keep our focus there. Plus, I don’t want to send an unhappy mood to you by reading this. You’re welcome. 😉

Emotional contagion happens, scientific research shows, because of brain function called mirror neurons. Essentially, our brain works because our microscopic neurons send energetic pulses to each other. These 86 billion neurons cause our brains to send signals to our body to do things, like beat our heart, walk, speak, do math problems. Neurons also trigger emotional responses that create the way we feel. What happens in our minds and our bodies – the human experience we have is due to all the neurons “firing and wiring” together.

Mirror neurons suggest that our neurons fire the same way regardless if we’re doing something or we observe someone else doing something.

You’ve experienced this. If you’ve ever had a next-door neighbor that was always happy, you were influenced to feel happiness during those interactions. The mirror neurons in your brain picked up on your neighbor’s emotional state and triggered that same state in you. Now, all of a sudden, you’re actually experiencing happiness, too.

Let’s take this out of the research papers and into how we can leverage this knowledge for our benefit.

Numerous studies around this point to our social networks’ influence on our happiness. The energy of one person can rub off on you. It also extends online. When your news feeds are void of negative language, you’re likely to feel less negative emotions. Find happy people to spend your time with – both in person and online – so their happiness will infect you.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about contagion during COVID is that the intensity and length of exposure is proportional to likelihood you’ll catch something. This is also true with emotional contagion. Be intentional about being in the middle of a happy friend and family group. I think of it like a hub and spoke of happiness. You’re the hub and you have all these happy “spokes” constantly circling around you. The closer you are to many happy people, the more you’ll be influenced to stay and spread happiness yourself.

Studies also show that the majority of this transfer of mood happens unconsciously. We don’t realize that we’ve “caught something” from other people. Now that you know about emotional contagion, you can now manage it better. Someone in a negative mood can spread it to you; just like you can spread your happy mood to them. By maintaining your happiness consciously, you’ll be less affected by their mood and will have a higher probability of helping them catch your happiness bug. By spreading your happiness to more people, the more you’re surrounded by happiness.

So now, if you’ve caught a case of the blues, find your always happy friend and connect with them to allow their mood to wash over you. And if you’re already in a happy place, go out and spread it around.