Infectious Happiness

My eye was taken by an article in the New Scientist: 3rd January issue – by Michael Bond entitled ‘Three degrees of contagion’ – the article describes how apparently they’ve proven that moods and emotional states such as happiness, depression and possibly even diseases such as obesity and a propensity to suicide can be ‘caught’ from one’s friends. It describes how waves of influence can travel through circles of friends infecting the individual and that one is more influenced by emotional state of a friend of the same gender than one’s partner. Even more extraordinary was the notion that it wasn’t only one’s immediate friends that had influence over one’s emotional state but friends of friends. It seems that happiness is contagious. This would make a strong argument for far more cohesive community action and ‘village’ style life. Not easy in a large city. Part of this phenomena is because people unconsciously mimic the facial expression, posture etc of their friends and this in turn doesn’t only create empathy it actually alters one’s own emotional state – and the stronger the expression the stronger the influence.

The notion of ‘toxic’ friends then arises. I couldn’t help thinking about the nauseatingly upbeat life coaches I’ve had the misfortune encounter in my life and that perhaps there might be something in the notion of positive thinking after all as well as the old adage ‘its not what you do but who you know.’

 I remember a Czech theatre director I used to work with who used to believe that unlike, Stanislavski, an actor can access the emotional core of his/her character through the surface just as easy as from the inside. In other words if you mimic misery you will feel it sooner or later.

One wonders about the broader implication; i.e. the psychology of gatherings. Religious gatherings, pop concerts, political rallies all seemed to have collective emotions that swept through such crowds. Many years ago when I was researching for my play Miracles I watched some home videos of a miracle worker in Italy ‘curing’ the lame and the diseased. Certainly even through the television screen the scenes of mass hysteria and sheer energy was palatable. It was easy to see how someone with a bad knee or leg might momentarily be buoyed up by such energy and walk.

Again, given the current appalling global economic state (not to mention the terrible things happening in Gaza) I wonder about the morality of the media’s ‘beat-up’ of bad news. I am very aware of economic realities however bad news sells copy. The Americans have the redemption of Obama’s inaugation, Europeans do not – instead we have Putin holding Europe to ransom. But there still is good news – it’s just usually buried on page three. If the emotional state of our friends influences our own emotional state God knows what the current incessant bombardment of doom and gloom is doing to the global psyche. Just how viral is this recession?

I am reminded of my stepson who on the play station game FIFA 2000 would secretly set the morale of his opponent’s foot team to the ‘SAD’ setting so they wouldn’t play as well – it worked! To finish with an upbeat note – at least it looks as if there might be life on Mars (okay probably single cell subterranean organisms farting wildly into the atmosphere but hey – it’s still life!).