Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happiness and the collective consciousness

A lot of people have been talking about the new study about happiness. Here's a report from TIME magazine:

I love this passage from the article:

Harvard social scientist Dr. Nicholas Christakis and his political-science colleague James Fowler at the University of California at San Diego … created a sensation with their announcement earlier this month of a 20-year study showing that emotions can pass among a network of people up to three degrees of separation away, so your joy may, to a larger extent than you realize, be determined by how cheerful your friends' friends' friends are, even if some of the people in this chain are total strangers to you.

If that's so, it creates a whole new paradigm for the way people get sick and, more important, how to get them healthy. It may mean that an individual's well-being is the product not just of his behaviors and emotions but more of the way they feed into a larger social network. Think of it as health Facebook-style. "We have a collective identity as a population that transcends individual identity," says Christakis. "This superorganism has an anatomy, physiology, structure and function that we are trying to understand."

I've written about collective consciousness before (Does matter matter?). Now here's a social scientist talking about a collective identity. Which to me is just one way of articulating that we all are connected in the infinite individuality that is God.

This line of thought has always made it easier for me to love and take care of myself. If I see myself as part of a larger whole, then I'm being good to the entire by being good to myself. If I see myself as an isolated being, I may think being good to myself is all about me and therefore self-indulgent, or I could see it as selfish and I should avoid it by being good only to others. Both of the latter are wrong-headed, though, because I'm not an isolated being—I'm one with you. And you. And you.

So my being happy is a duty not only to myself, but to my fellow beings. The smile I give to the cashier today will flow beyond her to her family, her friends, her other customers. Likewise it's essential that I not indulge in spreading negative emotions. Sometimes it's hard to avoid this, and we do need to be honest about how we're feeling. But there's a time and a place to explore negative feelings—say, when you're with a person you trust and you're asking for help.

At other times and whenever possible, spread joy. You will be changing the world.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or submit a question.
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At 12/16/2008 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Taylor said...

Dennis Prager a conservative talk show host does devotes an hour everyday to the issue of happiness. Its a really interesting talk show, I believe that he also wrote a book about it too.

At 12/17/2008 10:39:00 AM, Blogger -mt said...

Citing Dennis Prager - or any conservative - as an authority on sharing anything is so laughable as to make me...happy! Wikipedia reveals: "Prager has stated that women are happier in a patriarchal society and the high depression rate among women is due to feminism."


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