Life is full of actions and reactions. This is what makes up the world around us from the trees we see, to the relationships that are kindled and to the babies that come from them. Every single thing we do matters. When Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” underlying that was the simple assumption that everything we do matters. Now we know the science behind the wisdom of his words, and why it can not only help the world, but can have a significant impact on our mental health.
Part of understanding the science isn’t a whole lot different than the understanding of neuroplasticity. How we pay attention and what we pay attention to influences the way our brain grows throughout the lifespan. So if we have a continuous series of moments where we are paying attention to negative thoughts and worrying, so goes the brain. If we have a continuous series of moments where we are cultivating self-compassion, joy and curiosity in life, so goes the brain.
In the same way, we can have this impact not only on our mental health, but on the world as a whole. You may not be a single force in solving the Middle East conflict or in reversing global warming, but everything you do matters. In order to better understand why everything you do matters, it’s important to understand how emotional contagion works:
In The Now Effect you’ll read about the science behind why everything you do matters,
The social scientists Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, and James Fowler, PhD, conducted a study to look at the effect of social networks. To determine if there was a causal relationship for obesity, they mapped the relationships of 12,067 people who had more than 50,000 connections to other people that were assessed repeatedly from 1971 to 2003 (not online social networks such as Facebook but physical networks of people). They found that, indeed, “birds of a feather flock together.” However, they found something much more interesting: obesity doesn’t start and stop with immediate friends and family; it is “contagious” by up to three degrees of separation.
They also went on to find that loneliness is contagious by three degrees and that each person you have in your life that feels well boosts your chance of feeling well by 9%. In other words, the way people behave is contagious and causes a ripple effect across friends of friends of friends.
Think of it this way,
“When carbon atoms are arranged in a specific way, they make a diamond, but the diamond is not in each carbon atom. In the same way, each of our roles in mindfully engaging life can create a much larger social effect that is greater than each of us alone, having a significant influence on shaping our culture for the years to come and providing enormous healing.” ~ The Now Effect
Starting right now, get clear on what’s most important to you in life. What is something you care about that is greater than yourself? Maybe it’s the planet, or helping distressed people within your country or outside your country, or making a political impact.
Taking action alongside these values not only will make you feel good, but will also have reverberations that make this world a better place. Believe it.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction makes a living wisdom we can all benefit from.
Tree photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 3 Oct 2012