Early on in my journalism career I moved to Dallas to take a job as an investigative reporter with an ABC television station. Being a California native, I had a little culture shock and often felt like a fish out of water.
One year later I moved to San Diego and almost immediately forgot about those days on the hot, dry prairie ... only I soon began noticing the strangest thing. Every now and then I would end a sentence with a little twang. My friends began teasing me and calling me "Tex." It took me months to "unlearn" the sporadic accent and reclaim my normal speaking voice.
This woke me up to the powerful fact that we all are affected—and altered—by everything we experience. We entrain with the people, thoughts, and experiences that we are exposed to, often with no idea that it's happening. We might suddenly find ourselves falling into a slump of pessimism, negativity, and anger without realizing that spending time with cynical friends, watching conflicts on the news, or tuning into combative and angry radio talk shows caused us to feel this way.
The Science Behind Happiness
Research has shown that listening to complainers harms your brain, and no doubt in time you will be "infected by their twang" and become more of a complainer yourself.
It's no surprise that scientists have discovered the opposite is also true. A study by the British Medical Journal, in conjunction with scientists from Harvard University and UC San Diego, shows that happiness spreads readily through social networks of family members, friends, and neighbors. It concludes that knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3 percent more likely to be happy yourself. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8 percent, and you don't even have to know that friend yourself! It spirals out from there: a friend of a friend of a friend who is happy is going to magically sprinkle a little more happiness into your life, and on it goes to wider and wider circles.
It’s not just a psychological or emotional experience. That happiness is actually coursing through your veins, flowing through your organs, and even finding its way into your bones. The late Dr. Candace Pert was a pioneer of this discovery. As a neuroscientist and pharmacologist, she identified what she called the "molecules of emotion," and documented how our thoughts create an inner chemistry that either agitates and imbalances us, or helps us to heal and enter states of inner peace, calmness, and happiness.
The bottom line is that you are what you eat on the physical level, and you are what you think, what you allow into your consciousness, and who you associate with on an emotional level. Even more importantly, when we are mired in our own unhappiness, we do harm to others—including people we don’t even know. When we are more positive, compassionate, forgiving, and joyous, we not only help ourselves, we help make the world a better place.
4 Tips to Boost Your Happiness
Practice these daily to sustain a healing inner chemistry and put a smile in the hearts of humankind:
- Practice gratitude. It's easy to get caught up in, and even addicted to, personal concerns, dramas, and defeats. Instead, focus on all the blessings of being you. Half the world lives on less than $2 a day. Most of us have cozy beds to sleep in, showers and baths, food in the fridge, cars to drive, and more stuff than we need. We live in an amazing state of freedom and our life choices abound. There are people who love you and need you. What a blessing. Remind yourself every day that your glass of life isn't just half full, it's flowing over.
- Tune out negative noise. While you can't avoid all the negative people and situations in your life, you can surely remove yourself from a lot of it. Turn off the TV, avoid hate radio like the plague, move gently away from constantly negative friends and acquaintances, and seek out more peaceful environments in your leisure time.
- Look for miracles. You will find miracles in all the daily, often mundane aspects of your life: the wind singing through the trees, the song of a bird, a blossoming flower, the smile of a child. Pay attention, be fully in the moment, and the miracles will find you.
- Formulate a mantra. Think of a simple phrase that affirms your journey towards greater happiness, like "life is a blessing," "I see the best in everyone," or "I am filled with joy." Find what resonates with you and sing it to yourself silently all the time. Remember that the happier you are, the more you lift up everyone around you ... and everyone around them.