A new study of the social networks of 5000 people found that “when a person becomes happy, a friend living within 1 mile experiences a 25% increased chance of becoming happy, a spouse has an 8% increased chance of happiness, siblings living within 1 mile have a 14% increased chance, and next-door neighbors have a 34% increased chance (ABC News, The E.W. Scripps Co., 2008).” Apparently they also studied sadness, which was found NOT to spread as well as happiness. My research-savvy husband reminds me to be critical of such studies… so I am. But this makes sense to me. Maybe because people tend to surround themselves with other like-minded people, so it would make sense that my friends might be more optimistic, happy people. Spouses tend to choose like-minded spouses, with similar views on life, and they will probably raise their kids to be the same… or maybe it’s genetic to some extent? So why neighbors?
Now I wonder, why isn’t happiness contagious among co-workers or even strangers? A smile from a happy person might be brief, but isn’t it something? I’m sure happiness is classified as more than just a good mood on any given day… but what about those smiles?
Today, with this on my mind, I took Milo on an errand-run. We stopped by the dry-cleaners, Starbucks (to pick up a gift), and Whole Foods (to pick up yet again more milk… ). And overall, I have to say, people around here are in AWFUL moods! I say this on a Friday, during holiday season. The weather is pleasant. Businesses have decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah. So why are people so pissy?
Maybe I am just being sensitive to it. I consider myself a very happy person. And lately, because of the holidays, I am happier than usual. But most of the time, my smiles are met with… nothing. Bummer, but no big deal. I don’t really expect anything back. But today something happened that really bothered me. And it happens all the time, but it especially bothered me today, with this happiness thing on my mind.
Milo has been sick, and is kind of pathetic at times. But when we are out and about, he kind of brightens. He is a total social animal. He loves being around people, even complete strangers. I even worry about him at the playground because he is too nice. He often gladly lets little kids take his toys, and even offers them more once they are done! Partially my fault- I encourage sharing even when the other kid (usually old enough to know better) is being a complete grabby brat. But I digress…
Milo has learned the art of social interaction. He gives strangers his most enthusiastic “HI!” while smiling and waving. I generally don’t expect passing people to return the greeting. I know people are busy and in a hurry, and some don’t even see his efforts. I am not that kind of parent. You know, the kind of parent who expects everyone to drop everything and notice how cute their kid is.
But today, nearly all of Milo’s efforts to interact with people were in vain. Standing in line at Starbucks, I was holding Milo. He was faced back, right in the face of a lady standing behind me. Milo waved, smiled, said “hi!” and nothing. I was turned enough to see that the lady wouldn’t even look at him, despite being a foot away. Milo tried again, giving his most winning smile, but nothing. He waved again. He said “Hi!” a little louder. And “hi” again. Nothing. So I distracted him by pointing to the pretty Christmas decorations.
Then at Whole Foods, the guy behind the meat counter was a total jerk. Strangers were grumpy and rude, and one actually pushed me while trying to get around me as I waited for an elderly couple to clear a path for my cart. Waiting in line, the same thing happened with a guy behind us. Milo is in the little seat of the cart, facing this guy behind us. Milo waved, smiled, said “hi,” you know the drill. Over and over as we waited, and this guy just tried to look everywhere except at Milo. Is it so hard to say “hi?” You are not going anywhere! You are standing in a line! Seriously, is anyone else experiencing the crazy Scrooge-ness of this holiday season?
I have noticed this a lot lately, not just today. People are not nice. Please tell me that it’s not just DC. Please don’t tell me that I am surrounded by a bunch of snobby people who take themselves way too seriously. Our immediate neighborhood is nothing like this, so what could be going on?