Discovering the Secret of Happiness

Shiny happy people by Donna Cymek on FlickrWhile flipping through the latest issue of Psychologies, I came across a little blurb entitled “La felicità è contagiosa.”

Happiness is contagious.

The piece quotes a study published in the British Medical Journal, which found that the secret to happiness is to be around calm people who are satisfied with their lives.

I think we all kind of knew this, right?

I know I don’t like to be around negative nellies too much, because I find that unhappiness is also quite contagious.

But the article goes on to say that while “happy” areas in our brain are stimulated by being around happiness, this connection only happens in person and not via telefone or the Internet.

Accordingly, the author concludes, all you need to do to be happy is to shut off your computer, get out of the house, and talk to people (apparently preferably happy ones).

I’ll agree that there certainly is something extra-special about in-person contact, but I’m not sure that I don’t get at least similar happy feelings talking on the phone or via Internet with loved ones who also happen to be happy. Or maybe my brain is just different than those in the study?

What do you think?

Do online and telephone friendships
with positive people help make you happy?

24 Beans of Wisdom to “Discovering the Secret of Happiness”
  1. Gil

    Online and telephone relationships are better than no relationships. I think that person to person contact is the best for happiness. On the other hand person to person contact could lead to more unhappiness under certain circumstances.

    Definitely think that a telephone call is a heck of a lot more satisfying than text messages or email especially when family is concerned.

    I agree–if I can’t have in-person, I’ll take online over nothing any day.

  2. I can see why person to person contact makes a stronger impression on your brain. All your senses are engaged. You can pick up on the other person’s energy in a way that is impossible via the Internet.

    This one reason why I’m not a big online dating fan.

    That said I agree with Gil having some relationships is better than none.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Rare Richard Avedon Photos at Villa Medici and Musei Capitolini

    *So* true about online dating–I think I’d have to really have corresponded with someone *a lot* before I’d have confidence that it could work in person.

  3. 02.03.2009

    Well I’ve now retired 3 times and returned to work 4 times – not because I necessarily love working but because I enjoy the interaction with colleagues and friends. I tried the working from home thing and found it sterile and frankly unproductive. I need that person to person contact to stimulate all sorts of things including, I guess, those happiness cells.

    Having said that I have so many friends through the internet that I have never met who have been supportive when I’ve been going through bad times. I could not have gotten through a few things if they hadn’t been there with e-mails, chats and phone calls.

    Willym’s last blog post..Signs of the Times

    You know it’s interesting; being without the Internet for a little while, I’ve been using the wifi in a friend’s office so it’s sort of like I’m working with people again…it’s definitely a different feel although I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily more productive here than at home…just different, and good for a change. But I miss my pooches….

  4. joanne at frutto della passione

    I have regular, 9 to 5 contact with a person that complains constantly and it has a crazy effect on me. After reading this I have decided to deal with this in a more positive way, not quite sure how, but I’m going to try. Oh and by the way, coming by here every morning makes me happier so I’ll turn off the computer and go talk to people after I’ve read here!

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Eating panettone for San Biagio

    See, now that made me happy! 😉 I hope you can figure out a way to deal with your coworker…that’s one of the worst things about working with the same people all the time, IMHO–if you happen to get a Wendy Whiner in the office 😉

  5. lisa

    if only happiness was that easy to reach…
    i mean, being surrounded by people who are happy can ease you a bit
    but if you have BIG problems and troubles of your own
    you’ll get unhappy again once you step inside your door
    so , this means that to be happy all you have to do is stay outdoors
    24 hrs a day??????
    i agree that computer & phone calls can help if you can’t reach (physically)
    )your loved ones

    Yes I think the conclusion ended up a bit glib, too….

  6. I was thinking the same thing before I read your ending. It is no doubt *better* in person, but I think you get some happy vibes via the Internet and phone, as well.

    Cherrye at My Bella Vita’s last blog post..Three Rules for Making Train Travel in Italy Painless

    Phew! I’m glad to hear that 🙂

  7. Tina

    Sure it’s better in person, but I find much happiness on the internet. Perhaps the writer forgot to include people who live thousands of miles from home. When I talk online to a friend or family member all the way back home and they are happy, you can bet it hits me!

    Tina’s last blog post..February 2 – Happy Anniversary

    I have to believe we’re in a rather unique situation, Tina; it would definitely be interesting to know what kind of people were studied, what their life situations were, etc.

  8. 02.03.2009

    Maybe the author of the study did not include blogs or bloggers who can give some quick happiness injections like YOU do !!
    Liked your post yesterday and today ! A good thought, a beautiful inspirations stimulates my creativity, my feelings and make me happy too !

    Suzie’s last blog post..To preserve the Old: Colorful Tiles

    Aw thanks Suzie; two rather contemplative posts…must be something in the air around here 😉

  9. 02.03.2009

    I think you get more happiness from being around positive people, in person, than on the web b/c I believe that smiles and laughter are contagious and that’s something hard to communicate in an electronic environment. I think about my kids and all the texting and how much better off they’d be, if instead, they all just went and hung out together somewhere, rather than being alone in their rooms, all talking via texting.

    That said, I also do believe that electronic interactions are better than none. I also believe electronic interactions allow for more open communications, free from pre-conceived stereotypes that often occur with in person communications – all you have to do is look at the varied range of readers on your blog for that, which is truly an amazing thing.

    I also believe that happiness is often a choice. Some people are vortexes of negativity (must avoid or they’ll suck you in) that will never be happy, no mater how many in person contacts they have with happy people. Others can be happy, alone, in their rooms with a good book. What’s really important is figuring out what works for you, as an individual, and doing it.

    Kim’s last blog post..My Dad’s Urologist Visit

    All great points, Kim; I especially love talking about children in this context…if they never had all that in-person contact that we *had* to have, how does that affect their happiness levels via the Internet or telephone, etc.? Interesting question.

  10. 02.03.2009

    I read another tidbit about happiness and friends. Studies have shown that one is happier if they have a friends that lives within 5 minutes of their house. And for the frist time in my life, this actually applies to me. Guess is makes me a *little* happier 🙂

    Winning the lottery wouldn’t hurt either!

    My Melange’s last blog post..Travel Tip Tuesday – 2009 Travelers Choice Awards

    Oh I can definitely believe that…I’d be happier if my mom were within five minutes! And if I won the lottery….

  11. 02.03.2009

    I spend alot of time on the web and I also end up meeting many people with whom I have only had web contact previously (because of the B&B). I have learned that when I meet the person in the flesh, I start from scratch — like I have never met them before, in any context. Because I don’t know them. I know a sliver of words with which they position themselves. I know their writing. I know how they might like to come across to others. But I know nothing of the person they are. And, they know nothing of me, even though they think they might know everything. Those of us who write on the web are often quite careful to sculpt our words so as not to expose ourselves. So, I think strict web relationships are not relationships until they come out of cyber space.

    While I cannot get happiness in the human sense directly from the web, what I can get is inspiration. Inspiration is getting happiness indirectly. When I see a beautiful recipe, read a beautiful story, or see a really beautifully decorated space, it inspires me to cook, to write, to create… and those three things do make me happy.

    I like being around calm, content people, but also like being around restless, creative types. I think turning off the computer is a great idea, and I like to go around and see what my creative friends are up to… visit the projects they’re working on, hear their complaint and their laughter both. It makes me very happy to see and sense the fruits of their labor.

    Diana’s last blog post..Red Beet and Clementine Salad

    Sounds like a great balance to me, Diana. Wish some of your restless creative friends were around here…would love to peek in on their projects 🙂

    It’s very true as well about people online versus in person, how we keep certain things hidden or less expressed…of course a lot of us do that in person the first few meetings as well….

  12. 02.03.2009

    I definitely think happiness is contagious but I don’t think it’s limited to in-person contact. I think you can glean happiness from various sources and people in your life near or far. The key is to surround yourself with those happy things and people. Makes all the difference!

    Excellent point Nino…a little happiness here, a little there…it adds up!

  13. 02.03.2009

    Sure, being around people -person-to-person-is probably the best thing for many of us to keep in a happy or positive vein. But sometimes, when life creates things that make physical contact impossible or even just difficult, I find reaching out by e-mail helps me as does blogging. I haven’t worked since December of 2002 -health issues interceded and disability resulted. The computer has then become my “lifeline” over the past 6-7 years and especially so for the past 2 1/2 years since I started blogging. The neat things with the computer -e-mail/blogging -is that you can go back, again and again, re-read stuff if you’ve saved it on e-mail, easily find blogs that give a “feel-good” moment for you then too. That’s something you can’t really replicate all the time with in person contact and I do believe there’s something good to be said then in favor of the blogs, the e-mail that should eliminate a lot of criticism of those of us who camp in front of a computer screen for long periods of time.
    Good post, Michelle.

    That is *so* true Jeni…letter writing may be becoming a thing of the past, but with emails and blogs at least we have *some* kind of record that we can go back and enjoy. And I do love reminiscing 🙂

  14. 02.03.2009

    On-line friendship is great as far as it goes, but it is not the same as in person contact, in my opinion. There’s so much more going on when you are physically in the same place with others. Even if you are mentally apart (for example, both reading side by side, or watching a film together) being in the same place at the same time makes it much more pleasurable.

    saretta’s last blog post..Venetian Style

    I like that comfortable quiet too Saretta 🙂

  15. 02.03.2009

    I think the writer makes the assumption that in-person friendships are always an option – I get lots of warm fuzzies from my bloggy friendships (including you Michelle 🙂 ) and also my email friendships with peopel I actually know IRL and don’t see often – and yes, I do enjoy in-person contact with my positive friends, but the sad truth is that time and distance and different jobs and moves around often means you dont get to see those lovely people that often. And my family lives far away. So, “supplementing” my in person friendships with frequent email contact with both IRL and bloggy friends contributes more to my personal happiness than trying to schedule time to see more people. PS – I have not forgotten about the soaps – I just need to be home and awake and not working on something for more than 30 minutes and I swear I will get them sorted and packed up 🙂

    City Girl’s last blog post..It’s been a long week…

    Hah, no worries at all on the soaps, and yes, sometimes in-person just isn’t possible so we make do. I can see a lot of people during the day here, but only a few are actually going to make me happy 😉

  16. 02.03.2009

    Wow, I don’t agree. I have a lot of friends who do not live in the same town as me, so we stay in touch via email or phone regularly – and those same people are the ones who are usually the best calming influence on me. Would I love to have them in person? Sure. Do I think their effect is diluted because they are not physically here? No way.

    LJ’s last blog’s bits

    I’m wondering if our brains are actually changing with new situations presented…would be interesting to see a similar study in another 5 or 10 years….

  17. Mark

    What an interesting question. I firmly believe the first concept is right on. Surround yourself with miserable people – you know the type, everything is always going wrong, nothing works out for the best. 50 million people attended the superbowl and one of them got injured! OMG – and no matter how upbeat you are, you will end up being miserable. Even solid granite standing against the waves is eventually battered into submission.

    I really agree with Saretta. I have a few online friends, would like to have more. But face-to-face, meeting for an evening of food/wine/talk reconnects so much better than typing. Perhaps its because so few people type very well, not in the spelling sense but they use the screen to convey facts, not the effortless humanity that comes from body language, smiles and voice inflection. Online is better than nothing, and as LJ says, its a great filler for when you can’t be with friends personally but for me it doesn’t replace my need to see them in person.

    Great stuff, Mark. And yes, a lack of typing skills are definitely a downside to some online friendships…excellent point 🙂

  18. 02.03.2009

    I am very pleased when I find “real” people with whom I can connect. I have currently two close girlfriends with whom we share facts and dreams and it really feels OK to be with them.
    Then there are relatives and customers, neighbours and people you know. Sharing a smile, a nice word, really makes me start my day wih a smile.
    The thing with blogging is that you can actually pick the feeling. I can choose whom I frequent: I can read and not comment; I can stop visiting; i can re-start visiting. And I can be who I want to be, because I do not have to express or hide my feelings out of social or professonal obligation.
    In short, my friends make me happy and I feel at ease with them; blogging is the next best thing!

    Irene’s last blog post..Domino and a new Meme!

    That sums things up rather nicely, Irene 🙂

  19. 02.03.2009

    Cute article! I wish happiness was always contagious.. there are so many people right now who need cheering up. I find their are certain online friends I gravitate to because they do give me a sense of cheer and jovialness! 🙂 When it comes to phone friends I think they would probably get off the phone with me feeling uptight.. because my kids are so loud and cantankerous!

    Laurie’s last blog post..Meatloaf Dalla Mia Cucina

    Hah, excellent points Laurie 🙂

  20. 02.04.2009

    I have never been able to establish online relationships. I am an eyeball to eyeball kind of person. I blog daily and get lots of feedback, but its just not the same for me.

    gwen’s last blog post..The 109 Day Link Building Explosion – Day 34

    Hmm…maybe you just haven’t met the right online acquaintances yet 🙂

  21. 02.04.2009

    I like both. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several friends who started as online friends, and I’ve generally had the same experience of them in person that I did when I “knew” them online.

    That being said, there is no doubt that I try to collect positive folks around me and do much better when I do. And I love spending face to face time with folks I enjoy!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday: Novel Play List

    I think a lot depends on the particular people involved…how much you let your guard down with online friends, etc. I like it both ways too 🙂

  22. 02.05.2009

    I moved from Philadelphia to Anchorage, Alaska a few years ago and most of my friends and family are now 3,000 miles away. There is nothing better for me than calling my best friend on the phone and laughing for 45 minutes. Also, seeing pictures of my friends playing with their children makes me smile too. 🙂

    I’m with you, Julie. Completely. Thanks for coming by 🙂

  23. 02.08.2009

    I have two comments… Like Julie, I moved from DC to Chicago (so she wins on the distance) and it has been down right hard! I left my friends, family and amazing boyfriend… all to go to law school… what was I thinking! But having the phone/internet makes it easier to keep the connection and it does make me happier… My boyfriend and I will watch movies together and are able to talk to each other during it… I can call my best friend and yes, laugh forever when I need to destress a bit…

    also, in the blogging world, you make friends that you may never meet in person but these friends ships enrich your life… there is something about having a horrible day but getting a message from your blogging friend that makes you a bit happier! 🙂 the internet/telephone are not a bad way to communicate… as long as you know when to get off the phone and be together in real life!

    So true, Ginny; I hope law school is going well for you otherwise 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  24. 09.30.2010


    In-person communication definitely is very special, and in many ways can’t be replicated through technology. Yes, you can be happy to hear someone’s voice or see someone through a webcam, but physically being with the person is something different unto itself. This is particularly so when dealing with a long distance relationship. Too much a way time is really tough.

    But then again, I guess it all depends on the person. Once I finally move to Italy (hopefully in this lifetime haha), I think I will have to see my family at least once a year. To not be able to see them at all, and miss out on every get together during the year would be heartbreaking for me. It would be better if I could just uproot my whole family, and bring them there, but that is not possible.

    Hopefully they come up with ‘teleportation’ soon!

    Well I think there’s a huge difference between friendships and intimate relationships…intimate relationships just *need* that intimacy of being in person….

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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