We can influence happiness within our community, and it’s easier than you think. Here’s why:

We have something in our brains called mirror neurons. They cause us to unconsciously copy the facial expressions, body language, emotions, and energy of the individuals and groups around us. Our mirror neurons are like the WiFi of the brain; they take what we see in others and reflect it within ourselves.

For example, if someone smiles at you, your mirror neurons will cause you to smile, and then they will trigger your emotions to feel the same way- in this case, happy. Or, suppose a coworker is cheerful and has upbeat energy. When you are around them, you are very likely to feel upbeat too. The same thing happens within sports teams; one optimistic player can influence the entire team’s performance. I guess you could say that happiness is a bit like the common cold; it spreads quickly.

By the way, if you’re a parent, mirror neurons are critical in the development of positive emotion during the first two years. Parents who express positive emotions have infants that express positive emotions too!

Here’s something to consider: because it’s so contagious, your happiness can affect someone you don’t even know! Studies show that happiness has three degrees of separation. What does that mean? It means that your happiness can influence your friend’s friend’s happiness. Wow, this is powerful information. It means that if just a few of us start intentionally working on our happiness, it could spread quickly within our community.

We have to be careful because the same is true for negativity and pessimism. Think about it, if you walk into a pessimistic group, what do you do? You start talking negatively, even if you don’t mean it; this happens to me all of the time.

Because emotions are so contagious, we need to make a conscious effort to express positive emotion- It has a ripple effect. We can bring joy and influence the happiness of our community.

Here are a few ways you can positively influence emotions in yourself and others:

Smile, and if you can’t muster a smile today, try this: Place a pencil lengthwise between your teeth. You’ll be forced to smile! This “fake it till you make it” practice has been scientifically proven to work. The simple act of smiling, as little as 20 seconds, triggers positive emotion, fights off stress, increases feeling good production of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.

Bring joy to any group of people: When entering a group, try talking a little faster, gesturing a little more, making them laugh, or saying something positive. You can change the energy of the group.

Follow the 25-75 principle: For every negative person in your life, have three uplifting people. Surround yourself with people who are better than you in some way- happier, more spiritual, passionate, etc.

Limit negative talk: Speak only words that are truthful, peaceful, and beneficial to all. You might find that you have a lot less to say.

Tiffany Determan is a resident of Chisago County.

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