I couldn’t help thinking of Eleanor at Give a Brick as well as her personal site at Youier when I got stuck into the book I mentioned I had ordered from Amazon following my day in London last week. The second chapter is entitled, “When you smile, the world smiles with you.”
Happiness is good for you
The basis of this chapter is that happiness is good for you. So by spreading happiness and love, you help prolong the lives of those with whom you interact. Now, ever since the start of the year, Eleanor has been spreading her infectious happiness across the Internet. It’s been a joy to me to see the health and wellbeing message being echoed over a series of websites by different writers. It links too much that has been written about work-life balance and prompted me to write the article on psychoneuroimmunology for the Give a Brick site. It is also one of the issues that heavily influenced the decision to begin this website as clearly, what is important to me professionally, is how to spread health messages and change peoples behaviours across the society in my patch (Wales) but also possibly further afield.
What the chapter illustrates is that our happiness is infectious to those around us and makes our friends happier and also friends of friends. Equally, people who are connected to us but unknown to us (friends of friends) can make us happier through our connection in our social network. Why does happiness matter? Happy people live longer. It is this type of effect that may be important to public health and wellbeing in the future – acknowledging new ways of helping a population improve its health over time.
In the past, medical educators, reaching out to the population have used a variety of sources to try and influence behaviours: posters, leaflets, newspaper and magazine articles and with the advent of commercial radio and television, interactive advertisements. But the benefits of such methods are acknowledged as limited and it became recognised that if behaviours are to be influenced, then there needs to be a connection somehow with the individual. Peer group educators, care workers, former risk takers for example ex-drug users, are in a much better place to deliver the educational message and influence changes in behaviour. They do this by being accepted within a social network, albeit perhaps at the edges of the network and less able to influence that those at the centre. Influence the centre to change however, and perhaps we will see a more rapid change in the health damaging behaviour we are trying to influence.
New technologies and social network opportunities
Now the Internet technologies are developing social networks of their own with the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc. So the question becomes, is it possible to spread health and wellbeing messages using these technologies? By being delivered through the networks and subsequently reinforced by friends at the centres of their own networks, do we have the potential to unlock untold social consequences that will improve the population’s health and wellbeing?