When my husband was recovering in the hospital ten years ago from a life-threatening bloodstream infection, my worry level was consuming. It was most intense during the times when I was away from him, when the “what ifs” sabotaged my thoughts. But, strangely enough, when I was by my husband’s side, watching him breath, rest and heal ever so slowly, I felt better. The knots inside my stomach seemed to relax a bit. 

Because he’s an optimist and is able to recognize the positive in nearly every situation, he was planning for when he would be coming home, while I was stuck on if he would get better and leave the hospital. But his positive spirit was infectious, and I found myself feeling more hopeful because of him.

“I gather my strength from him every day,” I would tell people, and I truly meant it. I still feel that way today. Perhaps we all do, gather our strength -- and joy -- from our loved ones?

As a wife and mom of three, I feel happier when my people are happy, and on the flip side, more affected when they are upset, sick, distressed. Which prompted me to search this up and see if there was something to that, scientifically speaking. Can other people’s happiness significantly alter our own level of happiness?

After a few failed search terms, I keyed in the phrase “is happiness contagious?” Jackpot. And yes.

“Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness,” says Nicholas Christakis, Harvard Medical School professor and author of a 2008 study dealing with the science of emotion. 

This study followed nearly 5,000 people for 20 years, and found that happy people increase the chances that someone they know will be happy, and that one person’s happiness can affect another person’s happiness for up to a year. “The power of happiness, moreover, can span another degree of separation,” writes Rob Stein in a Washington Post article on the study, “elevating the mood of that person’s husband, wife, brother, sister, friend or next-door neighbor.”

Excellent scientific support for something I have always believed: it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who bring you joy and “fill your bucket.” It’s essential to avoid those who are toxic. And keep in mind that your joy can increase the happiness of others.

“Rather than asking how we can get happier, we should be asking how we can increase happiness all around us,” notes Christakis in an article for Harvard Medicine. “When you make positive changes in your own life, those effects ripple out from you and you can find yourself surrounded by the very thing you fostered.”

Another Harvard psychologist, Nancy Etcoff, reminds us that happiness is in the little things. “Happiness isn’t just one big event, “but the accrual of smaller, incremental steps, such as feeling gratitude and helping others.”

A fantastic reminder to stay alert, present, and mindful of tiny joys which pop up throughout our day, every day, even if we might not be having the best day. 

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Just like he knew he would, my husband came home from the hospital all those years ago. His road to full recovery still took a while, but I am convinced that his positive attitude and joy for life -- both still intact despite an intense experience -- led to a quicker physical recovery for him, and emotional recovery for our family. 

Given that happiness really is contagious, let's be inspired to spread deliberate joys, both big and small. And if we can't always be the source of joy, let's find someone close by to “catch” it from.

Sources: The Contagion of Happiness, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post.

Image Credit: Camdiluv via Wikimedia Commons 

Published by Stacy Di Anna