Here’s a real-life example. In 1962, a few students at an all-girls school in Tanzania had started laughing and they couldn’t stop. Each day, a few more girls started to uncontrollably laugh and couldn’t stop. And then a few more were affected. And then a few more. This laughter spread until more than half of the 159 students in one school was affected. After several weeks, the school had to close. This ‘contagion’ spread to several more neighboring villages, lasted 18 months, and closed a dozen schools.

All of us have seen this happen in our own lives – sometimes something incredibly silly can cause one person to laugh which then leads to another person laughing and then another person. Laughter is contagious.

In this way, attitudes and behaviors can spread just like viruses. A network can perpetuate anything whether it be fashion, fads, happiness, sadness, being kind or being mean. According to Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, a professor at Yale University, research has shown that happiness is more contagious than sadness — a happy friend increases the likelihood of you being happy by 9% while an unhappy friend means a 7% decrease.

Why is this important to know?

During this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are very aware that a virus can be spread from one person to another. But it is just as important to realize that happiness and optimism can spread from one person to another. While we are quarantining ourselves to protect our health, we have to remember to protect our mental health and our spirit.

So, how does one spread happiness and optimism in the midst of social distancing?

  1. Remain Connected. According to Murray and Peacock’s research in 1996, 70% of one’s happiness comes from ones relationships with other people — the main components of happiness involve number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Pick up the phone, send a text, do a video call or happy hour. Reach out to someone and let them know that you are thinking of them. Keep those relationships going!
  2. Spread Gratitude. You’re probably thinking that there isn’t much for which to be grateful in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I get it! You can be grateful for a good cup of coffee every morning, or great weather, or having time to finally sit down and read a book you’ve been wanting to read forever. It’s the simple things. It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to be grateful. Be thankful and really feel it. Being grateful naturally increases optimism. And well, optimism naturally increases…well, optimism.
  3. Humor provides a powerful buffer against stress and fear. Laughter has been shown to increase positivity and optimism. And optimism builds resilience. Maybe find a comedy to watch on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or on network television. Watch some specials with stand-up comics. Because we cannot hug or be around one another, maybe send funny memes to friends or colleagues, or perhaps text an inside joke to someone. Your friends will appreciate it and so will you. Laugh just like those girls in Tanzania and have that positive feeling spread to others.

Our relationships to other people are often the key to our happiness and our personal survival. In the time of social distancing, this is something we need to remember right now.

So, go out there and spread good feelings to everyone around you – it might just be contagious.