The Happy Plague

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Apart from its feature films, Pixar is well known for its shorts.  And its most recent one, “The Blue Umbrella” (paired with Monsters University) is yet another successful bud on that rosebush. Yet, the movie brings up another concept beyond its main plot point: happiness is contagious. Like a rose-colored version of the Black Plague, it spreads from its source slowly but steadily.

Thanks to mirror neurons in our brain, among other very technical brain-topological-y things, we have an incredible ability to pick up the emotions of others. Moreover, we can almost feel their emotions. It’s here where the effect of our emotions takes its debut. No matter how we feel when we interact with somebody—no matter how long that interaction lasts—that interaction is going to leave an impression on that person. Smiling at someone makes that someone feel good. Simple.

But not that simple. This goes far past the power of a smile—the fabled “if you smile at someone you can make them happier” is just a slice on a multi-layered cake of good feelings. By smiling at someone, we don’t just project our emotions onto them: at another level, we treat them better—more like human beings. See, it’s not just the contagious characteristic of a smile that is in play here, but the contagious characteristic of charisma. Along with those smiles comes a more amiable air, when we speak or listen we do so in a way that shows the recipient of that genuine care. And people like to be cared about.

One simple smile, one happy interaction can open more doors than we think. They may not be opportunities, or even physical doors (though if you open a door for someone and smile, it’s exactly what I’m talking about), but a door will open in someone’s heart. Who knows, that person may just pay it forward.

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