Academic journal article New Formations

Is Happiness Contagious?

Academic journal article New Formations

Is Happiness Contagious?

Article excerpt

SPREAD A LITTLE HAPPINESS AS YOU GO BY

A recent study carried out by Nick Powdthavee at the University of Warwick, presented at the Royal Economic Society's Annual Conference in Nottingham (March 21-23, 2005), was commented upon by the print media. The stories were framed around a central question which the study purported to answer: Could your spouse's happiness determine your own happiness? The study did not challenge the idea that happiness might be contagious and inhere between individuals; rather the sensational aspects of the stories revolved around the findings which suggested that the only couples to benefit from such good feeling were married couples. The affective transmission of happiness was reported as buffeting them against the stresses and strains of losing a job, illness and whether they owned their own property.

This apparently contagious aspect of happiness exists in parallel to another way in which happiness is allowed to take form across popular and scientific discourse. This is the likening of happiness to a muscle; it must be exercised to stay healthy. (1) Happiness involves an investment of time, energy, money, resources and so forth; it is a form of labour which demands patience, diligence, repetition, perseverance, practice and effort. Happiness is an achievement, and one which you do not have to suffer in isolation or silence. There is a whole consumer industry to support and encourage such endeavours; ranging from a burgeoning popular psychological literature offering the tools of happiness from the people who 'know'; through to the practices and techniques to achieve happiness which can be imparted through the growing services offered by life coaches and motivational speakers. Happiness takes form as a set of practices of the self-oriented towards particular goals: aligned with success and satisfaction in the work place; romantic relationships (particularly the art of dating and seduction); physical and mental health and well being; and the maximisation and optimisation of leisure and recreation time through the establishment of happy life-skills. These practices are epistemological, cognitive, corporeal and affectual, organised through a distinction made between motivation and habit. An inspirational quote offered to gym goers in a national franchise captures this assemblage in terms that most people would recognise and possibly identify with; 'Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.' We will explore the genealogy of the connection between habit and motivation later in the essay, but suffice to say it is one that structures a whole range of inspirational sayings and quotes to inspire this purposive journey. (2)

IF YOU ARE NEAR IT, YOU'LL CATCH IT

Where in the aforementioned discussion happiness takes form as a set of rational, purposive calculations which enable the subject to acquire and accumulate forms of social, cultural and biological capital, there is a flip side to this project of asset management and investment. Sometimes, it seems, as we have already seen, happiness will simply have us. We should be thankful that there are happy people who pass us by, as by virtue of our proximity, unintentional communication on a non-conscious and non-rational register might take place. In the psychological literature there are a range of studies claiming to demonstrate that people can 'catch' emotions through other peoples' 'facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, or movements'. (3) This literature has a long lineage and is often linked back to the story of Clever Hans the horse who appeared to be able to solve complex multiplication puzzles by stamping his hooves. Although some were convinced that Hans was psychic or a genius, Pfungst (4) in a review of the study, concluded that Hans was attuned to minimal bodily cues which were unintentionally communicated by the experimenter. (5) The establishment of unintentional bodily communication engenders a mimetic conception of affect which has a long history within studies of hypnotic trance, psychoanalysis and studies of non-verbal communication. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.