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Happiness is Contagious in a Family

By Yvette Vignando - 5th October 2010

I guess we all know that if we feel happy, some of this good mood rubs off on our children. You've also probably noticed how quickly your bad mood spreads through the family home on those inevitable 'off' days.

Harvard Medical School researcher, Dr Nicholas Christakis, has researched the spread of happiness and depression across social networks (online and offline). His research confirms that there is a demonstrated link between how we are feeling and how happy (or not) our social networks are.

In an interesting study looking at health and emotional states in people over periods of time, Dr Christakis and his colleague James Fowler, found that even non-direct contact can influence other people. In other words, they even found a statistically significant link between how we are feeling and how our friends’ friends are feeling!

I was thinking about what this means for us as parents - how our feelings affect our children and whether we are as aware of this as we should be?

We can’t possibly be expected to walk around our houses with cheery grins pasted on our faces at all times. If we did, we wouldn't be authentic in our family relationships. I think it's also important for children to see how an adult reacts to, expresses and solves stress in their life.

I think it's healthy and important to say something like “I'm feeling tired and a bit sad today because I did not have enough sleep and I miss Grandma.” But then go on to say “I'm going to have a rest later and then go for a swim so I will probably feel better.”

How often do we forget to explain to our children why we are feeling so grumpy?  And are we wearing our grumpiness too obviously on our faces throughout the day? Are we teaching our children how we deal with life's stresses or are we just letting it all hang out?

It is important not to unnecessarily burden our children with the details of some of the adult stresses in our lives. Children don't really need to know if I am short of money to pay the mortgage this month, or my friend Jane has betrayed a confidence or that another mother in the playground is really getting on my nerves. Likewise, children don't need to see how worried I am about a friendship problem at school.

Bearing in mind that there's such a strong link between our feelings of happiness and depression and our children’s, I think we should all be more deliberate and thoughtful about what we say and how we express those feelings in front of our kids. The younger the child, the more difficult it is for them to process and explain away our ‘bad mood days’ so it's even more important to think about our kids’ ages when we express our unhappiness with the world. When we do tell our kids about our unhappiness, it can be a good opportunity to let them in on how we are going about feeling better, or about the fact that our grumpy mood is not caused by them.

Sometimes life is really challenging - so I don't meant to imply that as parents we should set ourselves unrealistic and unachievable goals of permanent happiness. Some days are hard. Children are forgiving and we should forgive ourselves too.

But I do think we should try to infuse our children’s days with as much love, fun and happiness as is available and be careful about the words and behaviours we use when we need to explain Mum or Dad’s (hopefully) temporary bad mood for the day. There's an article with 4 tips to protect kids from depression our articles section.

image Andy Newson

Comments (3)

Excellent work Yvette

Have read your articles in the happy child pages. I'm impressed with your work to date. Keep up the great efforts and sharing.


What a powerful article!!

And it's got me thinking that, in addition to the fact that he's a toddler and full of passionate emotion, my little guy may be having more trouble effectively expressing the cause behind his anger because I often hide mine. Great "lightbulb" moment reading this knowing that I want to always be more mindful and verbally expressive in my parenting. Thanks!!

lgcollard's picture

And sometimes the best way to

And sometimes the best way to feel better is to look, really look, at the small people in your life and spend 15 minutes (or more!) doing something with them that they most want to do. OK, it's not a cure all, but for a minor bad mood, it's a turnaround. Win, win.

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