You, Me, and Us—The Layers of Happiness and How They Intertwine

By Cory Ervin-Stewart|November 24, 2014

It’s that time of year. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and hopefully you will be happily surrounded by family and friends, enjoying a delicious meal, participating in rich conversation and thinking about what you are most thankful for. As I prepare for one of my favorite holidays, I can’t help but give some thought to how individual happiness impacts collective happiness and thus makes us a more mindful, thankful, and active community.

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I am a big believer in the idea of being the master of your own happiness. It is imperative that we treat ourselves (and others) well, and partake in things that bring us joy. I also believe in the power of words, thoughts, and actions. What we say, think, and feel truly shape how we see the world and create within it. Additionally, I am well aware that my personal happiness ebbs and flows and I can see and feel the differences to my health when it changes.

There are many studies showing how happiness positively impacts physical and mental health. There is a vast body of scientific literature detailing how negative emotions harm the body and mind. Stress, fear, and loneliness (the trifecta of unhappiness) can alter biological systems and eventually lead to disease. Chronic anger, agitation and anxiety can also be very disruptive.

Scholars are continually examining the happiness phenomenon. The influence of historical icons such as Plato, Nietzsche and Gandhi keep scholars and non-scholars alike constantly interested in the concept, structures, and effects of happiness. Over the last decade in particular, many have been focused on examining the effects of happiness and how it spreads.
photo 2 Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego have found that one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only one’s close network of friends but can trigger happiness in friends of friends of friends. In a nutshell, happiness spreads like an emotional contagion. This is powerful knowledge and something we should all be mindful of, especially as we embark upon the holiday season—a time of year when we give thanks and think of others—a time in which happiness is simply infectious.

Most of us have social causes that we support and advocate on behalf of because as humans we are inherently empathetic—and in turn our bodies are rewarded with dopamine (yes, that’s the happy chemical released by our brain’s pleasure center) when we support and help others. So who couldn’t use a nice dose of dopamine? Thus, I invite you to indulge in a little happiness STAT!

Over the upcoming time of harvest and thanks make a list of at least 3 things that make you happy and commit to regularly participating in them over the next year. Commit to striving towards a personal goal, get outside and explore nature, spend more time with friends and family, or become inspired to volunteer or financially support a cause dear to your heart. Channel that happiness into how you relate to the world, positively engage with others, and fight the good fight. This time next year you will be breaking bread and fixing the plight of the world with a deeper sense of happiness.

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I am going into this holiday season thankful for my wonderful family (including my adorable smiling lab in the picture adjacent—love her!), my dear friends, and my health. This truly brings me individual happiness and makes me a better change agent for the collective. How can you harness your individual happiness and use that energy to make a difference in your community and other communities at large? Happiness is the truth, so get happy get together and get collectively active!

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Cory Ervin-Stewart
This article was written by Cory Ervin-Stewart

Cory Ervin-Stewart has been in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years and has worked with domestic and international organizations successfully leading their individual, corporate and institutional giving efforts. She serves on a variety of Boards and conducts workshops and presentations on empowering communities on how to be more socially just and more philanthropic.


  • Stefanie

    Well said. The biggest challenge in my adult life has been figuring out what it is that truly brings me happiness, and figuring out how to integrate it into the life I’ve made for myself. I absolutely agree that unhappiness manifests into physical sickness. We all need to find that source of dopamine! Happy thanksgiving!

  • Janet Van Zile

    Thank you Cory for all you do to make this a better world for everyone.