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 TÃ¼bingen 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.
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.