Next, the researchers investigated the effects of regularly sharing happiness over a longer period of time (4 weeks in this case). New participants were asked to write daily in a journal about experiences they felt grateful for, or about neutral subjects they had learned in class. They were then either given no further instructions or were instructed to share these with a partner twice a week. Those who shared their grateful experiences with a partner reported greater satisfaction with life, happiness and vitality (level of energy and zest for life).
One reason that the study asked participants to share their experience with close friends or romantic partners may come from the fact that these people may be more likely to support us. In the study’s last experiment, the researchers noticed that participants that received constructive, encouraging, enthusiastic and positive messages after a successful experience (high achievement on a test) showed greater signs of happiness, love and appreciation. We’ve all experienced sharing an exciting event or plan with someone who did not respond in kind or, worse, criticized our idea and left us deflated. When sharing a positive experience, it is important to select a supportive listener.
The bottom line: sharing our joy increases joy. Telling people about our happiness has far greater benefits than just remembering it or writing it down for ourselves. This research may also help partially explain research by Nicholas Kristakis and James Fowler has shown that our well-being influences that of those around us, up to 3 levels of separation. To try and be happy may seem like a selfish endeavor but it is actually a worthwhile goal to pursue not just for oneself but for our community. In turn, we can help support others’ joy by encouraging them to share their most positive experiences, and the things they feel grateful for. Supporting a friend or acquaintance's well-being in turn may impact not only ourselves but the well-being of all the people connected to that friend. Albert Schweitzer, a German physician and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was right when he said “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.