In my circles, I have been dubbed as the “happiest, most enthusiastic” person people have met. People say I make them feel happier.
I am honored and humbled by these descriptions, and I’m also not surprised by them. I know these descriptions are the direct results of a habit I have intentionally cultivated.
This habit is how I increase my joy and how I spread joy. And it works.
Recently at a dinner, I shared this habit with those at the table and I encouraged us to try it. I could sense the initial resistance in the air. This habit works against the grain of modern society. Yet they were open to it.
The result was one of the most memorable dinners I have ever been a part of. It will be a dinner we talk about for a long time–and it was all because of my joy habit.
When I started my research on joy, I found this habit actually has a scientific basis. Turns out, you can easily increase your joy and spread joy by doing these three things.
1. Gather positive experiences and gratitudes.
The first step of this practice is the part that works against our daily life. In our busy, modern day life, we notice the bad before we notice the good.
This is called the “negativity bias,” and it was handed down to us from our ancestors. Back then, our brains were primed to notice dangers immediately and keep us safe.
But what worked then just keeps us stuck on the negative now.
Negative experiences weigh heavier in our minds. But get this… Recent research reveals that we actually have 3 times as many positive experiences than negative ones. It’s only because of our negativity bias that we pay attention to the negative experiences more.
So how do we rewire our brain to focus on the positive? How can we start collecting these experiences to nurture our soul and call on them when we need them?
The answer is a gratitude journal.
With a simple practice of writing down what we’re thankful for each day, we can condition our brains to notice the good. This practice has numerous health benefits, but is most known to lower stress levels and deliver calm.
With a gratitude journal we can start collecting positive moments so they can sit at the forefront of our brains. But this is only the first step of this practice.
2. Share these positive experiences with people.
It’s not enough to just keep these positive experiences to yourself. You must share them with people you trust.
Nathaniel Lambert and his colleagues at Brigham Young University conducted a series of five studies to explore the relationship between sharing positive experiences and positive affect. Their control group kept a gratitude journal, but didn’t share their positive experiences with anyone. But the groups that did share their experiences experienced heightened positive affect.
Now, I’m not suggesting you go shouting your gratitude from the rooftops. The key element to this part is “people you trust.” And the next step reveals why…
3. Let these people give you an enthusiastic response.
In Nathaniel Lambert’s study, the group with the most positive affect was the one that received an active-constructive response after they shared their positive experience. In other words, when you share positive experiences and someone responds enthusiastically, it increases your joy.
And when someone tells you a positive experience, you spread joy by simply giving an enthusiastic response. The response that is either given by you or the other party matters.
This is why trust is a key component to joy. You must share your positive experiences with people who won’t shut you down. If they are unsafe and make you feel as though you sharing good news is not good, then their buzzkill murders your joy.
Why Don’t We Share Our Positive Experiences More Often?
If sharing good news with people we trust is so beneficial for our joy, why are we so resistant to it?
One explanation can be found in the zero-sum bias.
A zero-sum bias is when one party believes their win would be another party’s loss. Essentially, a zero-sum bias leads you to believe there is a limited supply of a resource, and if you have that resource, then another party doesn’t.
The problem is, many of us apply a zero-sum bias to resources with an unlimited supply.
A study done by researcher, Daniel Meegan, found that we only apply zero-sum bias to the allocation of desirable resources. There is no perceived bias when the resource is undesirable.
How does this apply to sharing good news? Well, happiness is a desirable resource. The zero-sum bias leads us to believe that when we share our happiness with others, it somehow steals their happiness.
And so, we don’t share our good news for fear of taking happiness away from others. But here’s the problem with this… happiness is an unlimited resource. Our zero-sum bias is only perceived.
A person is more likely to have this bias ingrained in them if they share their good news with people who shut them down.
How You Share Your Good News Matters
Now, you might be scared to share your good news more often because you’re barely met with an enthusiastic response. Turns out, how you share your good news matters.
A recent study published in the Journal of Individual Differences discussed the ways sharing impacts the response.
The study found that people are likely to share their news in either one of three ways: capitalizing, bragging, or mass-sharing.
When you capitalize, you want to squeeze all of the details out of a positive experience. A person is more likely to capitalize an event when they are with family or close friends and share their news with empathy.
When you brag, you’re interested in having the positive experience add to your self-image. A person is more likely to brag with a crowd liable to envy. As a result, bragging leads to a negative response because it is not done with empathy.
And finally, mass-sharing is blasting your good news on social media. While the study found this mass-sharing is typically the result of narcissism, it doesn’t lead to any more negative effects on top of bragging. It instead reaps less benefits than capitalizing the event with close ones would.
The key here is sharing your news with people you trust and sharing it with empathy.
If you share your good news to puff up or heal your ego, in person or on social media, you’re more likely to be shut down and experience less joy.
The Secret to Feeling Joy Longer
Negative news is more likely to stick with us longer. But sharing our good news with empathy is the secret to feeling joy longer.
In a study done by the University of California, Irvine, researchers studied a group of 165 students who got good grades on an exam. The students who shared their news felt happier longer as opposed to the ones who didn’t share their news. But their happiness was only prolonged if their good news was met with enthusiasm.
Sharing good news with people who respond enthusiastically is the key to feeling joy longer.
But think about this… if you are on the receiving side of good news, an enthusiastic response will help the other person feel happier longer as well.
Not only that, but their happiness can spread to people up to three degrees of separation.
Turns out, you can change a lot by just giving an enthusiastic response to good news.
This is the exact reason why people report feeling happier when they encounter me. I make it an intentional priority to meet people’s positive experiences with enthusiasm. I also feed my own joy by sharing my good news in empathy with people I love. It’s a habit that goes a long way for my personal happiness and the happiness of others.
So if you ever wonder why I give enthusiastic responses to you, or random people in the grocery line, now you know why. This simple practice is the best thing you could do for more joy in your life.