Thanks to research done by Harvard University social scientist Nicholas Christakis and UC San Diego professor James Fowler, we now have evidence that proves “You are the company you keep.” Well, OK, their studies were a bit more scientific than that, but they basically proved that personal qualities and characteristics spread amongst social networks – whether it’s a positive attitude, obesity or the likeliness to vote or donate.
While it makes sense that your chances of kicking a smoking habit are much higher when you’re constantly surrounded by nonsmoker or that you’d be more likely to make excuses to skip the gym if most of your friends are lazy, I think the most important to highlight of the findings is how positive energy is spread this way, too. Rather than me trying to explain it, Elle magazine writer Rachael Combe wrote a great article about the study and its findings in the May issue.
“We may be under the sway of others, but they are also under our sway. We have real power to change the lives of thousands of people, considering that our capacity for persuasion generally extends to three degrees, and that psychologist Stanley Milgram posited in the 1960s that the whole world is, on average, separated by only six degrees. It’s pretty heady stuff: When you smile at a neighbor or donate money to UNICEF, for example, your action travels like a wave, washing over thousands of other people, nudging them toward happiness and charity . . .
When Christakis and Fowler looked at levels of happiness among members of the [study], they found that having a first-degree friend who is happy increases the likelihood you are happy by 15 percent. If that person lives less than a mile away, the effect goes up to 25 percent. When they averaged out all the connections (from first to third degree), they found that each happy person you know increases your probability of being happy by 9 percent, while an unhappy friend decreases it by only 7 percent. A small difference, sure, but better than nothing. ‘If you were simply playing the averages, and you didn’t know anything about the emotional state of a new person you just met, you would probably want to be friends with her,’ they write. ‘She might make you unhappy, but there is a better chance she will make you happy.’ So go out and make a new friend. A smile is incredibly infectious.”
In the most basic sense, if you’re not happy, surround yourself with more positive and upbeat people. This is exactly what I had to do earlier this year (a couple times) because I had too many negative people in my life. I chose to rid my life of people who were rubbing off on me and influencing me in negative ways. While it wasn’t easy, I’m happy with my decisions.
As a happy person, or even if you’re feeling especially good one day, make sure to smile more and share your good mood with others. The more positive energy you release into the world and to others around you, the more pleasant the world will be. This is the basic premise of the tattoo I got on my forearm in January. “Exhale love” it says. It’s self-explanatory. Go do it!