The Conversation

Lea Waters:  Professor, Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology, Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne

I have some good news for you: happiness is contagious and affects the happiness of others with whom you are connected.

That’s right – according to recent research by the University of Pennsylvania – making yourself and those around you happy is not only possible, but really quite easy. All you have to do, quite literally, is spread the word.

Titled What Makes Online Content Viral?, the study tracked the circulation of almost 7000 articles from the New York Times over a three-month period and found that positive articles were shared more often than negative ones.

Similar studies of online behaviour also suggest we’re more likely to use words like “happy, love, nice and sweet” online than “worried, hurt, sad and ugly” and that we share our positive daily experiences 70% of the time.

These studies form part of a veritable swathe of research into the way moods and emotions spread between people linked through online social networks. According to a two-decade long study conducted by researchers at University of California, San Diego, happiness is not only highly contagious but online communities may actually “magnify the intensity of global emotional synchrony”.

In research carried out at Tübingen University, scientists who tracked the emotional responses of Facebook users in Germany and the US found that reading other people’s positive posts triggered happiness in 64% of people.

Research shows that when it comes to social media, good news travels just as fast as bad news. www.shutterstock.com

 

Think of it this way: Your good news positively influences your friends, who in their turn positively influence their friends. With one positive post you can brighten up the day of someone you have never met.

On the flip side, however, negative emotions spread through networks too. In an online social network study in the US using data from millions of Facebook users, rainfall was found to negatively affect the emotional content of people’s status updates, and this influenced the negativity of posts made by friends in other cities who were not experiencing rainfall. Negativity, it showed, begets negativity.

Sharing your positive news also, research suggests, has direct perks for you. Communicating a positive experience you have had with another person heightens the impact of the positive experience itself because you get to re-live and re-savour the experience.

When researchers from four universities across the United States partnered with eharmony they found that sharing positive news between partners boosted happiness and life satisfaction. As Virginia Wolf so eloquently states: “Pleasure has no relish unless we share it”.

Understanding the impact good – and bad – news can have on our moods is important for many reasons. In the midst of a 24/7 news cycle dominated by stories about violence, war, natural disasters and corruption – think of the old media adage “if it bleeds, it leads” – it’s little wonder people report depression and worry after watching nightly news bulletins.

The reaffirming aspect of this research is that it shows we want to hear good news and we are using social media as a medium to create and disseminate it.

Further evidence for this desire for uplifting news can be found in the burgeoning of websites such as Positive News, which since being established in July has become the world’s first crowdfunded global media cooperative. The paper is now owned by 1526 readers, journalists and supporters.

Happiness is contagious: spread the word. www.shutterstock.com

 

Another example is the Real Life Heroes series by KST TV on YouTube, along with sites including Good News Network, Joy News Network, Daily Good, HuffPost Good news, Oh My Goodness, Positive News, Sunny Skyz and Gimundo.

So, how can you go about sharing good news? You can visit the sites above and share their positive stories with others. You can commit yourself to writing more positive posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and sharing more good news in person. You can start your own way to share and spread positive news.

I have recently used my twitter account (@ProfLeaWaters) to set up a Positive Detective campaign and asked my network to spot examples of positive qualities in others. I wake up every day to a new positive tweet and so do all of those in my network. It is an easy and effective way to get some positive emotional therapy.

Sharing your good news might seem like a small gesture but it can have a big effect and provide people with a life raft in the sea of negativity that is often mainstream media. Isn’t it time we steered our own boat?

ABC_LogoThe Federal Government’s new chief science advisor, Alan Finkel, has advocated for an end to coal-fired power but acknowledged it will not happen “overnight”.

His comments come as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull heads off a push from a group of well-known Australians to put a moratorium on new coal mines.

Dr Finkel has been appointed to take over as chief scientist, providing independent advice to the Government on science, technology and innovation.

He replaces Professor Ian Chubb, who will have held the role for almost five years when his tenure concludes in December.

During the media event to announce his appointment, Dr Finkel was questioned about the future of coal-fired power.

“My vision is for a country, a society, a world where we don’t use any coal, oil, or natural gas because we have zero-emissions electricity in huge abundance,” Dr Finkel said.

“But you can’t get there overnight.”

An open letter, co-signed by 61 prominent Australians, has been published this morning calling on the French president to put coal exports on the agenda at the Paris climate talks in December.

The diverse group includes former Climate Change Authority head Bernie Fraser, leading academics, Wallabies player David Pocock and number of religious representatives.

They are also pushing for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

What does the chief scientist do?

  • Provides independent advice to the PM and other ministers on science, technology and innovation
  • Acts as a “champion” of science, research and the role of evidence in the community and government
  • Works as chief communicator of science to the public, with the aim of promoting understanding and enjoyment of science
  • Reports directly to the Minister for Science and works closely with the PM

Source: www.chiefscientist.gov.au

Sir Gustav Nossal
School of Thinking Science Panel and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne

COMMENT from The Conversation:
This is truly the most fantastic news. [Alan] Finkel is an extraordinary leader. He has proven himself in personal scientific research. He has succeeded in business in competitive fields. He has worked for the public good, most notably in his presidency of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

He has been unbelievably generous in philanthropy, supporting exciting causes. He has shown leadership in the university world. He is a scientific publisher of note. Beyond all this, he is a person of the highest intelligence, integrity and imagination.

It is difficult to think of anyone who would do this important job with greater distinction.

As an aside, Australia may be “getting two for the price of one”, as his wife, Elizabeth Finkel, is a distinguished science journalist and author.

This news has made my day, my week, my month and my year.

_________________________________________________________________

27 October 2015

Media release with the Prime Minister, Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP.

Dr Alan Finkel AO has been appointed Australia’s next Chief Scientist and will commence in the role in January 2016.

He succeeds Professor Ian Chubb AC who has served with distinction since May 2011. Professor Chubb’s term concludes at the end of 2015.

Dr Finkel is a prominent engineer, respected neuroscientist, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist with a personal commitment to innovation and commercialisation.

He is currently the Chancellor of Monash University and is President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

His experience in science and the commercial sector means he is uniquely qualified to act as one of the Government’s key advisers on science and innovation, and on ways to translate our great scientific research into tangible outcomes for Australians and our economy.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said science and innovation are at the centre of the Government’s agenda and key to Australia remaining a prosperous, first world economy with a generous social welfare safety net.

“The Australian Government recognises the importance of science, innovation and technology to our future prosperity and economic security in an increasingly competitive and diverse global economy,” the Prime Minister said.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP congratulated Dr Finkel, who was selected from a high calibre field following an international search.

“Dr Finkel is renowned for his outstanding research, industrial and entrepreneurial achievements in Australia and overseas, his leadership and service in the university and education sector, the academies and national science bodies, and his experience in providing highquality expert advice to government,”Mr Pyne said.

“His will be a vital role in shaping Australia’s economic future and leading our national conversation on science, innovation and commercialisation across the research, industry and education sectors and with the wider community,” he said.

The new Chief Scientist will provide independent advice to the government on science, innovation and commercialisation and lift the profile of Australian scientific endeavour domestically and internationally.

Dr Finkel said he was thrilled with the opportunity to contribute to framing Australia’s participation in the agile 21st century.

“My personal experience across research, business and STEM education will guide my ability to formulate relevant advice,” Dr Finkel said.

“We exist in a competitive international environment and to compete effectively, business needs science, science needs business, Australia needs both.”

Mr Pyne also praised the current Chief Scientist for his landmark achievements in the role.

“Professor Ian Chubb has made an incredible contribution to science in Australia and we thank and commend him on his outstanding contribution as Australian Chief Scientist and also as an eminent university administrator and academic over the course of his distinguished career,” Mr Pyne said.

For more information, including Dr Finkel’s biography and information about the role of the Chief Scientist visit science.gov.au