Who are you linked to?

If I had to chose a secondary theme for this blog it would be happiness. One of my favorite posts is how to find happiness, which started as a response to someone else’s happiness project. In this I cite a project run by the BBC in 2005, Making Slough Happy, where they try to do just that – make the residents of a nondescript British town happy.

There is more information on that post and on the BBC page, but the conclusion they came to was there were ten steps to happiness:-

Plant something and nurture it
Count your blessings – at least five – at the end of each day
Take time to talk – have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
Have a good laugh at least once a day
Get physical – exercise for half an hour three times a week
Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
Cut your TV viewing by half
Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day

One important factor seems to have been overlooked from this research. The producers and “experts” chose a group of volunteers and got them as a group and sub groups to work together to try various ideas.  But in creating this project and putting together these people as “guinea pigs”, their lives had a new purpose and friendships were formed within the group. With shared goals and acting together, the actual experiment would have impacted on their happiness.

Research (Christakis & Fowler) originally published in the British Medical Journal, has highlighted the importance of the happiness of others to whom you are directly or indirectly connected. If your partner is happy it increases the likelihood of your being happy by 8%. A friend who becomes happy and lives within a mile increases your likelihood of improved happiness by 25%. These statistics were originally posted on Evan Hadkin’s Wellbeingandhealth, where he expands on this and quotes one of the research authors:-

“In this case being geographically closer does make a difference. The closer a friend lives to you, the stronger the emotional contagion. In addition, the happiness effect appears to wear off after roughly one year…”

“Someone you don’t know and have never met—the friend of a friend of a friend—can have a greater influence than hundreds of bills in your pocket.”

I wrote about making friends on August. My theme then was about making the effort to connect with people – saying hello when you pass someone in the street, engaging a shopkeeper in conversation. But is this all to superficial? To he happy, do we need to be more involved with others?

One Christmas tradition many of us will have been through recently is sending out greetings cards to friends. For my wife this is a military operation; in my experience women seem far better at maintaining friendships than men. In several of my cards I have added a line along the lines of “hope we can meet up in 2009”.  I recently explained how making the effort to reconnect in person with an old friend was a really rewarding experience – yet didn’t take much effort.

As we immerse ourselves in an age where its possible to have friendships (and even relationships) with people we have never met, do we neglect those around us at our peril?

Other research has identified Britain’s loneliest town (Holyrood) and highlighted the social fragmentation that has occurred here and in many other parts of the country (and undoubtedly throughout the world). People don’t feel they belong, there is no sense of community and whatever social glue existed in the past has dissolved.

One of the difficulties of helping people who have become socially isolated through their mental illness, is trying to help them rebuild social networks and friendships – and not just with other mentally ill people.  Even if you start a new activity – a hobby or an evening class – you may meet people but it doesn’t automatically create friendships or community.

One of my favorite blogs – The Positivity Blog – citing one of my favorite books – Mans Search for Meaning – came up with the following statement:-

happiness does not depend on the outside, unless we allow it. The trouble is that most of us do allow it because this is how we have been conditioned, so we see it as normal. But happiness starts inside and works its way out.

I disagree. Outside factors can have an influence on our happiness – and we can have an influence on the happiness of others.  One of the conclusions of the Christakis & Fowler research was:-

“Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others. This fundamental fact of existence provides a fundamental conceptual justification for the specialty of public health. Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals.”

What else can you do this Christmas within your networks?

Photos by kamshots & tinou bao on Flickr

Maudrey December 23, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Great post. I also read Evan’s post about this subject. This is something real for me since my best friend of 20 years and I always seemed to have similar things happening to us and consequently similar feelings throughout the years. Happiness is contagious. And so is sadness, for that matter. I guess that means we better associate ourselves with happy people since they will have a positive influence in our lives.

Positive teacher December 24, 2008 at 10:48 am

Hi David,
I think what Positivity Blog and you ment are similar things. One supports another actually. If I truely believe and get used to the idea that my happiness comes from inside, I would not let outside events to have an affect on me. If I my happiness comes from outside factors then everything around me would affect my mood and happiness.
It’s just my personal opinion.

Positive teachers last blog post..How frequently should we assess students?

Agnus January 5, 2009 at 8:51 am

Good research over various conversations and i really appreciate for your hardwork in doing so..Thanks for the updations..

Agnuss last blog post..Des Moines, Iowa

Kirk January 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

such a, well happy post… sorry i could not resist saying that… anyway, i feel that happiness should almost always come from within, but happiness coming from the outside is important as well, if not equally as important…

Chelsa January 12, 2009 at 10:54 am

As you said making friends is not a joke..Its easy for some people and hard for some people.It will be great if we make friends easily..I usually make friends easily and give importance to them a lot.

Chelsas last blog post..Provo, Utah

David January 21, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Part of making friends is to respond when they communicate – sorry at being so tardy in responding to your comments. Thank you all for making the effort, helps keep my writing!

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