Happiness is Catchy (or Contagious) & Mirror Neurons

Recently I have read several articles talking about how depression & happiness are “catchy”, by that I mean contagious. Merely by hanging around people in a certain mood, one can begin to feel the same way.  In this recently published study http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/cgi/content/long/rspb.2010.1217v1 the researchers found that content and discontent are contagious. We are affected by the size of our social network and we are infected by contact with “content” and “discontent” people.

When we are in a neutral state, we are susceptible to either content or discontent. Yet, is it possible to build up our immune system against discontent. In fact, people who have felt discontent are more likely to return to a state of discontent, we do not develop and immunity against discontent. Why not try to increase the probability of “content” contacts? The study showed that contacts greater than 2 km away (good bye New York), had less of an impact. So, let us surround ourselves with positivity. And when the “discontent” exposure is risky – i.e., visiting a sick friend, attending a funeral, tenting with a frightened friend, living in a depressed city, or an otherwise “saddening” experience – it is important to develop rituals to leave the emotions of the discontent experience behind. These emotions are contagious; emotional dis-ease will lead to physical disease and that is difficult to recover from, maybe even years.

Colleagues of mine from BTB Feng Shui http://www.btbfengshui.com/ alerted me to the studies on mirror neurons. Understood at first to be something possessed by non-human primates, i.e., “monkey see monkey do” – mirror neurons explain how primates learn from and actually experience the emotions of other primates, simply by watching.  Now this one is really bizarre and I am having trouble even explaining how it works! But, the way I understand the research, we can feel the sensations on another person’s body as if it were our own body. This was tested by numbing a subject’s arm and then showing that same subject another person’s arm being scratched. That scratching on the “OTHER” arm was perceived as being on the subject’s OWN body.

So, there really is no difference between you and me. So why not smile at yourself? Why not be polite? Why not hug yourself? Let’s commit NOW to smiling at people on the street. And making a few jokes. Geesh I’ve made myself happy with this blog!

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