The Source of Happiness?
October 12, 2011
Did you know that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetic make up, 10% is determined by our life circumstances and the other 40% is a result of our social networks?
That piece of info came from one of my favorite websites, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu. This is Christine Carter PhD’s website and she is in her own words “a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center”. Her blog combines science, happiness and parenting and is a fascinating resource for parents and non parents alike.
When she talked about the body of research that shows how much of our happiness is determined by our social networks, my initial response was “No way”. But I read more and ended up being convinced. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, wrote a really interesting book Connected: How your friends’ friends’ friends affect everything you feel, think, and do. Their premise is that the people we are around influence what we think of as normal, and that, in turn, influences our habits, feelings, and behavior.
There is good research in the clinical nutrition literature to suggest that we eat in similar ways to the people we hang out with most. If you grow up around fast eaters, you will tend to eat more quickly yourself. If you have friends who eat copious amounts of dessert, you will probably indulge more too. And if you have friends who make walking dates, you will tend to walk more often.
And the same seems to apply to our emotions. What really blew me away is the extent to which our emotions can influence not only our immediate friends, but their friends too. There is a ripple effect which can reach further than we expect.
The research on happiness also suggests that happiness is a set of skills that can be practiced. Gratefulness can increase happiness so a daily gratitude practice can be a great thing to try. This does not by any stretch mean that we need always be happy.
Key Point: If we can practice skills like being present in the moment, appreciating what we have, and taking time to connect with others, we may just find ourselves – and our friends – happier overall.
This research helped me recently deal with a negative, grumpy co worker. My knee jerk reaction is to be curt back to her or mentally roll my eyes every time I see her. This week, I focused on sharing some happiness (a funny story about one of my kids, letting her know how much I enjoyed a particular meeting) and she actually smiled. It’s so easy for me to get dragged down by others’ negativity but not if I am focusing on my own happiness.
I would love to hear your thoughts about these ideas. And also how you practice your happiness habits…do you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, take time to laugh, hug loved ones. What makes you cheerful so you then get to spread that happiness around?