Happiness Is Contagious: Help Others With Positivity

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know why happiness is contagious? How can improving your own mindset and mood actually help other people?

Research reveals that happiness is contagious, meaning that investing in your own mental health can help those around you. You have the power to create a ripple effect of happiness in those around you, just by focusing on your own mood and mindset.

Here’s why happiness is contagious.

Why Happiness Is Contagious

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor introduces his seven principles for happiness. These principles work in concert, meaning a little positivity snowballs to create even greater benefits. For example, when you train your brain to see the positive (Principle #3), you’ll see more opportunity for growth when faced with adversity, thus you’ll be better positioned to fall up, or find the Third Path (Principle #4). Additionally, if you invest in your social connections (Principle #7), the community support you develop can keep you accountable and help you form new, healthy habits (Principle #6). The more you implement the principles of the Happiness Advantage, the more your efforts will reinforce each other and create a virtuous cycle of positivity and success.

And the cycle doesn’t end with you—your happiness is contagious and creates ripple effects that benefit the people around you. Your brain has cells called mirror neurons, which read and mimic the emotions, reactions, and behaviors of other people. In one study, researchers found that when you watch a needle prick someone else’s finger, your brain lights up as if your own finger had been pricked. Mirror neurons have the same effect on emotional responses: In one experiment, researchers grouped participants and discreetly asked one volunteer to be overtly positive. The other members of the group quickly began mirroring that person’s positive energy, and the entire group became more productive and successful as a result. As such, it’s proven that happiness is contagious.

(Shortform note: Some researchers doubt that mirror neurons have much—if any—impact on physical and emotional mimicry.)

Because happiness is contagious, people who are very expressive and who have strong social connections wield even greater influence on the emotions of the people around them. Just one positive person on a team unwittingly infects her colleagues with positivity, which increases their individual performances as well as the collaboration and success of the group as a whole. In fact, emotional contagion is so strong that each workplace develops a distinct group emotion, or “group affective tone,” which creates emotion norms that are reflected in the office culture and behavior. For example, a company with an optimistic emotional norm will likely greet challenges with more confidence and enthusiasm than an office with a more negative norm. 

From entry-level employees to C-suite executives, everyone can use the principles we’ve described to raise her happiness baseline, and the positive effects will inevitably spread to the people around her because happiness is contagious. You have the power to be happier and more successful, and to make the people around you happier and more successful, as well. 

Happiness Is Contagious: Help Others With Positivity

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Happiness Advantage summary:

  • How happiness isn’t the result of success, it’s the cause of it
  • The benefits of happiness—from increased creativity to improved health
  • Strategies for adopting a positive mindset and raising your happiness baseline

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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