The Hard Facts: Happiness Attracts Happiness

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“There’s an assumption that happy people strike others as annoying and shallow, but in fact, they tend to attract others. Happy people are more likely to be energetic, sociable, enthusiastic, and optimistic, in contrast to the unhappy, who are often apathetic, more likely to complain, and sap others’ energy.” (Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin)

I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin, both as an author and a person. Her books and blog are both inspiring, and I really love that they give small actionable steps to increasing your happiness. You don’t have to move to Bali or become a professional chef to be happier. You can just make your bed everyday, or kiss more, and voila! Happiness boost.

Gretchen’s latest happiness book, Happier at Home, hit bookshelves yesterday (check it out), and I love the section on “avoiding happiness leeches.” Basically, to increase her own happiness, Gretchen resolves to stay away from people that actively deplete her happiness bank. As she puts it: “Because happiness and unhappiness are a catching, a potent source of unhappiness are the happiness leeches who suck away the lifeblood of happiness from others.” She goes on to identify three types of leeches: Grouches, Jerks and Slackers.

I find this research fascinating, because I’ve known it to be so true. Hanging out with friends who are generally happy, even just in an especially good mood, is a great boost, while hanging out with people who are unhappy is exhausting. I used to have a friend who was constantly stressed out, complaining of all the reasons why her life was so hard. By the time our get-togethers would end, I too would feel stressed out. Stress by osmosis. It’s not a good feeling.

There’s research to support this stress contagion too. “Because of the ‘spillover effect,’ when we see others act like grouches, jerks, or slackers, we’re more likely to imitate them–both because that kind of behavior is on our minds, and because our inhibitions have been lowered. Research shows that the group member who scored lowest on conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability often sets the tone for the whole group.”

So there you have it. When looking for new friends, seek out the happy folks around you. Chances are it’ll help you be happy! And, as a friend yourself, consider your attitude. No one wants to be around a happiness leech, so try to slap on a smile and feign a good mood. Fake it ’till you make it, right?

Do you find that being around happy friends makes you happier? And, do your happiness leech friends get you down? Any tips on how to handle them?

Gretchen Rubin herself read MWF Seeking BFF and said “I couldn’t put it down.” (Thanks Gretchen!) As of Sunday, MWF is on the Emerging Authors shelf at Target, so check it out there… or wherever books are sold! I’d be ever so grateful. 


Filed under The Search

15 responses to “The Hard Facts: Happiness Attracts Happiness

  1. Tara

    Couldn’t agree more! There are friends that literally suck the life out of me and friends that I can’t help but be happy around, the kind that lights up your life. Moving forward in life, I’ve started to thin the negatrons and focus on the lights. Makes a world of difference!

  2. For a long time I had a friend, who thankfully has moved away although I wouldn’t admit that to her, who would make me feel borderline DEPRESSED after a few hours of hanging out. I’m generally a very positive, happy person regardless of the circumstances, so it was very exhausting to keep up my normal attitude when around someone who was always upset about something trivial. I thought I was helping her by offering her my emotional energy, but I now realize she was just dragging us both down, and that she needs an influence stronger than what I have to offer to turn her attitude around.

    Another great post!

  3. Absolutely. There used to be a couple of people in my social circle who were utterly miserable – they could see the bad side to anything – and it was so draining having to spend time with them. I’ve gladly been there for friends who were going through depression – that’s totally different – but those people who are negative for wont of knowing how to be anything else? They’re no fun to be around.

  4. I completely agree. Happiness seems to move between people. Those who have a it will give it to people who have less. It’s science, just like you said, the osmosis effect.
    I usually cut off very negative, life-sucking acquaintances before our relationship moves into something more. It’s the best way to keep my mental health.
    That being said, we shouldn’t abandon good friends just because they are unhappy for a period of time. Maybe they are going through a rough patch and do need “a piece” of our happiness. I believe this applies to BFFs only. Because real friendship runs deeper than shallow, faked happiness.

  5. The link for Gretchen Rubin’s blog doesn’t work.

  6. I totally agree with finding happy friends makes your life happier. I do have circle of friends since college and we are all happy being together that even if there are problems, we look into the bright side. At times when I feel sad, they came over and make me smile. Wonderful friends make you a wonderful person too.

  7. You know I never thought of it, but I have had friends in the past who were happiness leeches & I would feel drained after spending time with them. This led me to avoidance in the end in an effort to keep them from draining me dry.

  8. Lyla

    hmmm…. i can see what you mean about happiness leeches but what of being “true friends” and being there for one another through the good AND the bad. i can certainly relate to that feeling of being drained by a friend in distress but i don’t see much value in having to put on a phony smile and be or have “stepford friends.” doing this too much over time sounds like a very shallow “friendship.”

    • That’s a fair point Lyla. But I do think there is a difference between a friend going through a rough time, and a person who is just generally a grouch/slacker/jerk. Of course I would agree that a true friend will be there for her BFF in a time of need or sadness. But I also think if someone is just a generally unhappy negative person–not because of anything in particular that has happenedbut across the board, as a general disposition–it can be hard to be around them….

      • Lyla

        I see what you mean and can def relate. I tend to let the person know that they are being a grouch/slacker/jerk so perhaps it’ll snap them out of the funk they were in and help them come to some kind of epiphany about what’s going on in their lives. Then again, I may have lost many of those “friends” in that way. LOL!.. I think that’s why I didn’t get the point you were trying to make at first. I just don’t count those energy drainers among my friends. (I’m bad. I know.)

  9. Anonymous

    So I don’t have many friends because I’m a grouch, now I see…but hang on, maybe I’m such a grouch because I don’t have enough friends?

  10. If you don’t mind me reverting back to the 60’s, i find your post far out, groovy, cool, I dig it, out of sight

  11. John Crriadseh

    I totally agree with your post that there are people who are a potent source of unhappiness, the happiness leeches who suck away the lifeblood of happiness from others.

    What to do if your girlfriend happens to be a happiness leech?

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