I was at an Action for Happiness talk the other evening by Nic Marks. He’s authored The Happiness Manifesto and came up with the Happy Planet Index. He was talking about his thoughts on what he called Intelligent Happiness. A play on Emotional Intelligence and a term he freely shared is one that may need to be evolved.
Part of his talk he was speaking about the influence of our network on how we feel, and this is something I’ve come across previously, and really starts you thinking about who is in your network and why they’re there.
Research has been able to inform us that our likelihood of feeling happy is directly impacted on by how happy others are around us. This can be the case with what has been called three degrees of influence. That is, how happy you feel can be affected by how happy your friend’s friend’s friend is.
The opposite is also true, that how sad or unhappy you feel is influenced in a similar fashion, but the impact of positive emotion is greater than the negative.
Which is really something.
We are all well aware that the immediate people in your life matter, and the influence of them on your wellbeing has a direct link. For a long time we’ve known that if you have friends who have a set of habits you will be influenced by them and you in turn will influence them with your behaviours and habits.
I watched a TED video today by neuroscientist Sophie Scott, which spoke about the relevance of laughter as a function. Why do we laugh? What’s its purpose? Essentially it has a social and an intimate purpose. Laughter signals socially that we want to build rapport and relationships. With loved ones it signals that we share interests and are emotionally moved on similar topics.
What this all helped me to understand better is that being happy has a direct societal impact that often we just take for granted. A happy person will be able to influence how happy someone is three times removed from their immediate circle.
There’s a lot of insight there for how we choose to act and how we choose to understand the influence we have on people we didn’t realise were being affected by our mood.
And there is a cautionary piece here too. This isn’t saying that we need to be displaying happiness all the time. Happiness, laughter, joy, are all useful concepts and are part of the mechanisms around resilience. What we know from positive psychology is that you can’t just positively think your way into better situations. Sometimes we have to understand that living a positive life means doing things in very different ways to what we may be used to. That’s not always easy and it may not be the right set of choices to make.
What I find helpful about Nic’s talk is an understanding that when others share good news or stories with me, my feelings of positivity will be raised because of it. Likewise, if I can share good things then it may have a positive impact on others. And what Sophie’s TED talk helped me to consider is the social and personal benefit of laughter. Sometimes it’s ok to do the polite laughter to cultivate relationships and when you have a personal relationship a real hearty laugh signals lots of positive intent towards them.
And here’s the TED talk by Sophie Scott which is well worth watching.