stop it! you're making me happy!

Submitted by la miller on 14 September, 2009 - 14:47

I strongly recommend the article "[|Is Happiness Catching?]" from Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Science reporter Clive Thompson looks at the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who are finding that behaviors like quitting smoking, becoming obese and being happy might be passed around through our social networks.

As I've been trying to redevelop my daily routine to include beneficial things like meditation, exercise and healthy eating, I've been thinking a lot about how I've managed to keep those things up in the past. I realized it had a lot to do with what my friends where doing. For example, I started regularly going to yoga class when someone else I knew was regularly going (and enjoying it). Christakis and Fowler's work seems to support my thinking that to have all those good things as part of my routine, I should be sure that there are friends or friends of friends in my social network also meditating, exercising and eating well.

It also resonates with what I got out of Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence, which I just finished reading. Humans subconsciously emotionally attune to each other. Neuroscientists think [w:mirror neuron]s have a lot to do with this. So, my cranky mood is not just effecting me, it can get passed on to other people I come in contact with. In other words, if I'm walking around all grumpy, I can potentially infect someone else with my sour mood. If we're thinking in terms of personal responsibility, I probably should not be leaving the house like that.

From a Buddhist perspective, this makes doing no harm and instead working to be of benefit to humans a very concrete, day-to-day activity. Is my mood uplifting? Or did I just cast a gray cloud over someone else's head?

Thompson writes:

“Even as we are being influenced by others, we can influence others,” Christakis told me when we first met. “And therefore the importance of taking actions that are beneficial to others is heightened. So this network thing can cut both ways, subverting our ability to have free will, but increasing, if you will, the importance of us having free will.”

I encourage you to read the article. It's all good stuff to think about and gives me another reason to keep being mindful of what I'm doing and feeling.