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Smiles all round: why sharing happy news is good for you and everyone you know

Research into the way emotions spread through online social networks shows that happiness is contagious. www.shutterstock.com

Smiles all round: why sharing happy news is good for you and everyone you know

Research into the way emotions spread through online social networks shows that happiness is contagious. www.shutterstock.com

I have some good news for you: happiness is contagious and affects the happiness of others with whom you are connected.

That’s right - according to recent research by the University of Pennsylvania - making yourself and those around you happy is not only possible, but really quite easy. All you have to do, quite literally, is spread the word.

Titled What Makes Online Content Viral?, the study tracked the circulation of almost 7000 articles from the New York Times over a three-month period and found that positive articles were shared more often than negative ones.

Similar studies of online behaviour also suggest we’re more likely to use words like “happy, love, nice and sweet” online than “worried, hurt, sad and ugly” and that we share our positive daily experiences 70% of the time.

These studies form part of a veritable swathe of research into the way moods and emotions spread between people linked through online social networks. According to a two-decade long study conducted by researchers at University of California, San Diego, happiness is not only highly contagious but online communities may actually “magnify the intensity of global emotional synchrony”.

In research carried out at Tübingen University, scientists who tracked the emotional responses of Facebook users in Germany and the US found that reading other people’s positive posts triggered happiness in 64% of people.

Research shows that when it comes to social media, good news travels just as fast as bad news. www.shutterstock.com

Think of it this way: Your good news positively influences your friends, who in their turn positively influence their friends. With one positive post you can brighten up the day of someone you have never met.

On the flip side, however, negative emotions spread through networks too. In an online social network study in the US using data from millions of Facebook users, rainfall was found to negatively affect the emotional content of people’s status updates, and this influenced the negativity of posts made by friends in other cities who were not experiencing rainfall. Negativity, it showed, begets negativity.

Sharing your positive news also, research suggests, has direct perks for you. Communicating a positive experience you have had with another person heightens the impact of the positive experience itself because you get to re-live and re-savour the experience.

When researchers from four universities across the United States partnered with eharmony they found that sharing positive news between partners boosted happiness and life satisfaction. As Virginia Wolf so eloquently states: “Pleasure has no relish unless we share it”.

Understanding the impact good - and bad - news can have on our moods is important for many reasons. In the midst of a 24/7 news cycle dominated by stories about violence, war, natural disasters and corruption - think of the old media adage “if it bleeds, it leads” - it’s little wonder people report depression and worry after watching nightly news bulletins.

The reaffirming aspect of this research is that it shows we want to hear good news and we are using social media as a medium to create and disseminate it.

Further evidence for this desire for uplifting news can be found in the burgeoning of websites such as Positive News, which since being established in July has become the world’s first crowdfunded global media cooperative. The paper is now owned by 1526 readers, journalists and supporters.

Happiness is contagious: spread the word. www.shutterstock.com

Another example is the Real Life Heroes series by KST TV on YouTube, along with sites including Good News Network, Joy News Network, Daily Good, HuffPost Good news, Oh My Goodness, Positive News, Sunny Skyz and Gimundo.

So, how can you go about sharing good news? You can visit the sites above and share their positive stories with others. You can commit yourself to writing more positive posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and sharing more good news in person. You can start your own way to share and spread positive news.

I have recently used my twitter account (@ProfLeaWaters) to set up a Positive Detective campaign and asked my network to spot examples of positive qualities in others. I wake up every day to a new positive tweet and so do all of those in my network. It is an easy and effective way to get some positive emotional therapy.

Sharing your good news might seem like a small gesture but it can have a big effect and provide people with a life raft in the sea of negativity that is often mainstream media. Isn’t it time we steered our own boat?



This piece is based on a talk presented at TEDxMelbourne. To listen, visit here.