Happiness is catching
If you are feeling unhappy, go find a happy person. People's happiness is influenced by the people around them, argues Professor Peter Totterdell, University of Sheffield. In fact, emotions can be transmitted from person to person through what might be termed 'emotional contagion'.
A study undertaken as part of the Emotion Regulation of Others and Self (EROS) project indicates that merely witnessing emotional interactions between other people can be sufficient to induce the same feelings in ourselves. For example, in one study, staff in a hospital department reported their reactions to over 1000 interpersonal interactions between co-workers across 15 work days. Analysis shows that staff felt significantly more emotionally drained after witnessing unpleasant reactions compared to pleasant ones.
"People do have dispositions to feeling and expressing particular emotions which indicates a genetic component, but more recent research indicates that our social networks also affect how we feel," Professor Totterdell explains. "We are all embedded within various kinds of social network, such as friendship groups, work-based associates, team-mates at a sports club, and local community contacts. These networks form our personal neighbourhood, and how we feel depends partly on the feelings of those to whom we are connected."
In a further study conducted in a supermarket and a prison, researchers found that people deliberately try to improve others' feelings and that the quality of relationships between people was affected by the strategies they used to regulate how others feel. "So it seems that when it comes to happiness, we really may all be in it together," Professor Totterdell concludes.