When I was a boy growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was my Italian-American father who was the mood setter of the house. If he was happy, everybody was happy. If he was angry, the home atmosphere turned ugly with discontent spreading like an August fog in San Fransisco, from one family member to the next.
Like many psychologists, I was attracted to the field of psychology to find answers to the many strange and vexing questions about my dysfunctional family, including why one person’s mood in a family can so drastically affect everyone else in the family, and beyond.
I am happy to report that new research now provides some answers. This research shows that everything we do or say tends to ripple through our social networks, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees). That means when you feel happy, your friend’s friend’s friend has a higher likelihood of feeling happy too.
The implications of this finding for family members is gigantic, especially if family members also happen to be your friends. As famed researcher Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University points out:
1.Happiness is not only an individual matter.
The research shows that taking control of our own happiness can positively affect others. Happiness is not one’s own business anymore.
2. One plus one does not necessarily equal two.
Happiness does not spread among people in a ‘1 to 1’ manner, but infuses up to three degrees of separation. Your happiness thus depends on the pleasure of individuals beyond your own social horizon. The power of this transference of happiness is no more 1+1=2.
When you stop and think about it, how many people “up-line” contribute to your happiness or unhappiness? When I grew older, I realized that my father’ s moods were being influenced by His mother, who maybe was being influenced by her relatives or social contacts.
Thinking about all this reminds me of how important it is to (1) be aware of whom you associate with (and who they associate with) as they may be influencing you more than you realize, and (2) You can greatly influence many people in the world with your own moods, including happiness.
So, set the tone positive for your social networks at home, at work, in peer-based activities and on your virtual social networks.
In our anger management classes in Southern California as well as in our online anger management programs, we try to teach people how to be happier as an antidote to anger. What we are discovering now is anger reduction replaced by happiness not only greatly affects the individual, but many people around him or her.
Now for the drum roll……
Remember, before you decide to laugh with someone, you are not only laughing with him or her, but with everyone they have laughed with before you!