When my friend’s husband was laid off last year, she took a part time job as a cafeteria server, spooning up food to the residents of a local care-giving institution to help make ends meet.
One day, after she had been on a job less than a week, the cafeteria manager pulled her aside. “You’re too happy,” he told her, somewhat sternly. “That’s not our culture here; you’ll have to tone it down.”
Judy’s not a giggler. She’s not boisterous in any way. If I were to describer her demeanor in one word, I’d call her “pleasant.” She’s a people-person. She draws people out and radiates her appreciation for who they are. She’s observant, and a listener, and she cares.
She was shocked by the reprimand, and at first she had no idea how to process it. She had compliantly told the manager she would do her best. But really! Be less happy?
As the day wore on with the manager’s command echoing inside her for awhile, she finally found it so absurd that it seemed funny. “What are they going to do? Fire me for being too happy?”
She decided that she would continue to be exactly who she was, and let the chips fall where they may. She continued to befriend her fellow workers on the serving line in her gentle little way, and gradually she learned the residents’ names and little bits about each one. “Hello, Martha. How are you today? Did your niece have her baby yet?” she would ask as she dished up whipped potatoes or creamed corn. “How’s that ankle doing, Fred?”
You can imagine what happened as the spring wore on. The whole atmosphere of the place changed. Stress levels lowered. Efficiency improved. The residents complained less, ate better, and their overall health improved. I’m sure my friend was never seen as the agent of change. But I have no doubt that putting her in that environment was like tossing a pebble into a pond. The ripples of her gentle, loving joy simply spread and spread.
Happiness is like that. Research has shown that if a person is happy, the odds of someone in close contact being happy increases by 15%. And the likelihood of the second person’s contact being happy increases 10%. Then, amazingly enough, the effect, called “Three Degrees of Influence,” even spreads to a third person, who has a 6% likelihood of being happy—even when the third person doesn’t know the first one.
You can find several morals to this story. But I say, just let the power of Judy’s joy increase your own happiness today. And pass it on. You never know how far a smile and a kind word will travel.