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  • Jan Flynn

Be Happy For Me

The title of this post is misleading.

I don’t have thrilling news to announce — at least, as of this writing I don’t, but hope springs eternal — so I am not asking for you to share in my exuberance at my winning the lottery or getting the part or booking the big trip, or whatever.

What the title of this post means is that I want you to be happy. Really, I do. Authentically, deeply, sustainably happy, and not just momentarily excited by external events. Please, be happy.

I want you to be happy not because I am a wonderful person (I’m not saying I’m not a wonderful person, understand. My wonderfulness or lack of same is beside the point). My heartfelt desire for your happiness is entirely self-interested. Because, as studies, and nearly 30 minutes of my own Interweb research has revealed, if you are happy, my own chances of being happy increase.

I could make your eyes roll around by quoting the findings of Nicholas A. Christakis, and James H Fowler, based on their parsing of data from the Framingham Heart Study. Or you can just trust me on this: happiness is catching. Not just from person to person, either. In any given social network, happiness can spread outward to people you don’t even know —  three degrees of separation, in fact, or to your friends’ friends. Interestingly, it can even skip a degree. This effect is stronger with proximity, so having a happy neighbor is a very good thing for you, even if you don’t necessarily hang out with said neighbor.

Just in case you needed a reason to keep your dog from pooping on Mrs. Wilson’s lawn.

Whether the shared happiness effect is due to mirror neurons or Christakis’ and Fowler’s social contagion theory, or some combination thereof plus more stuff we don’t understand, it makes sense on an intuitive level, doesn’t it? Even more encouraging is that, while unhappiness is also contagious, it’s less so than happiness. Which means that the happy folks in your network can, without doing anything conscious, counteract the grumps. Isn’t that nice to know?

Now hold on there. I get that it’s January and your holiday spirit may have been shoved into a dusty corner of your attic along with all the twinkle lights and the decorations. Furthermore I am fully aware that every day, assuming you pay any attention whatsoever to the news, brings with it a fresh assault on your sense of security and your trust in society at large. At least that’s true if you live in the USA, but even if you reside in a country whose current leadership is relatively sane you are not immune to the general nuttiness that seems to be attacking our planet like a particularly nasty virus. There are many, many reasons you can find to be disturbed, chronically outraged, scared spitless, and just plain unhappy.

Which is why, in my view, choosing happiness is a radical, righteous, and deeply responsible thing to do. It doesn’t mean you ignore the bad stuff or pretend it’s not happening — quite the reverse, in fact. The happier and saner you are (they’re related: I don’t have studies to back that statement up but I’d bet the rent it’s true), the more able you are to recognize when something’s wrong and make what difference you can. Contact your elected officials, write a letter to the editor, volunteer, purchase a copy of Fire and Fury and be seen gleefully reading it in public, whatever. Just take appropriate, positive action and let the results take care of themselves. And be happy you’ve done what you can.

Then go do what makes you even happier. Dance, sing, eat and drink yummy things, play with your dog. Get a massage. Laugh all you can. In these wacky times, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself and to connect with who and what brings you joy. No pressure here, but you being unhappy doesn’t change anything.

But your happiness actually, empirically, does. Remember, studies have shown this. So do me a favor. Choose happy.

Studies have shown that your comments increase my happiness, so please share!

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