Man Hands On Happiness To Man…

February 5, 2009 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

They **** you up, your Mum and Dad... And your neighbours, and your colleagues, and...

They **** you up, your Mum and Dad... And your neighbours, and your colleagues, and...

… As the poet nearly said. What he actually said was “misery”, of course, but Monday’s Children’s Society report, ‘A Good Childhood’ , while full of misery, was also a reminder that how we interact and why we do it has the power to transform our lives – for good or bad.

It’s a mixed bag of a publication, one that has alarmed both Guardianistas  and the Torygraph  as it doesn’t really explain how we should square some of modern life’s most difficult circles.

But what caught my eye was the role it gives to whole communities in nurturing children. Actually, there’s a cunning little paragraph which rather neatly sums up the importance of communities to the social wellbeing of us all. ‘We experience others not just in the family, the school and the workplace but in the whole network of social institutions to which we belong… These are institutions that support us in the values we hold, and through which we can express our generous and positive impulses’.

Exploring how we can express these generous impulses through our networks is what we in the Connected Communities team are all about. With that in mind, Steve passed me this fascinating BMJ article about how we pass our moods onto others through our social networks. I’ve been rereading the slightly jeremiad Childrens Society report through new eyes as a result.

The idea that the mood of the person next to you can affect your mood is not new to social research, and is probably restating the bleeding obvious. Networks’ ability to spread certain things – information, for example – in incredibly sticky and viral ways is also well noted. What this new research suggests is that social networks are also vehicles for “emotional viruses”.

This is quite radical stuff. Emotional wellbeing is often seen as a product of our personal experiences, our genes, just about anything apart from the values and beliefs of the people around us in daily life. What these researchers are saying is that happiness is an emotional virus that can spread in persistent and lateral ways, and it’s friends and neighbours and the way they interact with us that count the most. You get clusters of happy or unhappy people.

The social science geek in me wants to know what ratio of “infected” people to “normal” people you need to start “infecting” a population with misery or happiness, and if it matters where they are in the network. But my less pointy-headed side is wondering what I can actually do with this information, especially to improve our kids’ lives. I’m a school governor; how could I work with other school governors to foster a sense of emotional security and optimism through the values my school embodies? How could each of us spread the happiness virus?


Entry filed under: social networks. Tags: , , , .

Meso Soup Where Is Everybody?

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