Creating Contagious Happiness

A blend of rich minds assemple on Twitter every Tuesday at 11am for a discussion hosted by @ChicagoIdeas. Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible Labs broke from 3D printing for humanity and joined us as a co-host this past Tuesday. He led a discussion on “Help One, Help Many.” Of the customary five questions proposed throughout the #ideaschat hour, the second question recollected a theory/thought I had several years ago that was accompanied by a diagram.


A woman with short hair, glasses, in her early/mid 40’s and the brightest smile you’ve ever seen was a checkout clerk at the Dominick’s grocery store a few blocks from my apartment. I’d see her there regularly. And every time I checked out, I would seek out her line—even if it meant waiting an extra five or ten minutes (Avoid grocery shopping immediately after work if you can help it!).

Consequential Strangers

At this point in time, I was reading an evocative social science book called Consequential Strangers. Imagine a spectrum of interpersonal relationships with complete strangers on one end and intimate friends and beyond on the other. In between are varying degrees of consequential strangers. One segment I find particularly fascinating is nearer the complete strangers and the impact they can have on one’s life. Think of your mailman or barista or …grocery store checkout clerk.

Here’s a brief clip of the author Melinda Blau explaining this segment of consequential strangers:

Why I waited in line for Sharon

Sharon was one of those people that just shines. Radiating happiness, it was impossible not to smile when you’re talking with her. It’s the kind of feeling typically reserved for momentously positive occasions like scratching off $500 on a $2 lottery ticket from the gas station. We knew one another as ‘consequential strangers.’ She always recognized me and in our brief encounters we might speak about our upcoming plans with friends and family but nothing much beyond. We weren’t strangers but we weren’t friends either. Oddly, my favorite moment of each of those abbreviated conversations took place outside when I reflected upon my trip along the conveyor belt and impulse buys.

From a distance, it seems silly that a visit to the grocery store could create an impact so positive. Particularly because grocery stores typically elicit remorse for having to drudge through the cold. And the only redeeming factor is buying a box of cookies sold with regretful satisfaction.

An interaction with Sharon though, could set the mood for the next hour and sometimes the rest of the day. I would make it a point to pass on good vibes to all those I encountered.

Several ideas came to me one day.

Contagious Happiness/Positivity

Happiness like negativity, can be contagious. But it seems to be more difficult to transmit. Certainly compliments can be effective, but what about general demeanor? Sharon’s disposition for instance. It comes naturally to some and others need a bit of inspiration. My natural state is upbeat but it takes more than waking up on the right side of the bed to make it contagious to others.

Some people are more sensitive or receptive than others. Some are in states of mind that cannot change and some won’t care.

How does one break the barrier of those that aren’t initially open to the idea of changing their mindset, whether conscious or unconscious?

How long do the effects last? By transmiting the positivity yourself, can you reinforce the effects so they last longer?

In the end, there will always be one who doesn’t pay it forward, but we can at least try.

To the interested #ideaschatters: I found a first draft of my diagram but it was drawn as a cycle (and it was rather incomplete). This idea makes more sense as a network.

Social Contagion Network Image

Help One, Help Many

Social and positive psychology can provide some answers and this contagious happiness theory seems to be comprised of at least internalization, a broad category of social influence. According to Wikipedia, internalization is when “The individual accepts the influence because the content of the influence accepted is intrinsically rewarding..” And it also looks to be a behavioral contagion — “a spontaneous, unsolicited and uncritical imitation of another’s behavior.”

We can also derive ideas from network theory, particularly diffusion on networks. But I’ll leave that for another day.


Have you experienced anyone like Sharon? 

Do you have any thoughts on contagious happiness?


**Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any assumptions

Everyone’s Twitter

Photo by Desiree N. Williams

I was sitting around Saturday not doing a whole lot and all of a sudden I got an idea. I think I was thinking about those white boards and chalk boards in the office cafeteria or on the front door of a particular restaurant. Anyone that wants to can walk up, grab a marker or piece of chalk and write a message or make a doodle. It’s fun!

So I was thinking that it could be cool to do something like that with Twitter. So the next hour was spent creating a few necessary accounts, creating a logo, setting up a Tumblr and priming the account. And so here it is!

My first thought about what people might post was that tweets could be signed using their handle. Folks can also follow themselves if they want. I’m excited to see what happens!

It’ll be interesting to see how long it goes before the password and/or email gets changed…

Communication Breakdown: Where’s Your Website?

I hope you have more eggs that aren't in this basket
Photo by Mrs Logic

Remember when the Web became ubiquitous? I mean when broadband started showing up and dial-up was fading away. When you’d see stacks of AOL trial discs at a friends house. And when companies learned that they had to own a plot of land online just to stay relevant. Remember that?

There are reasons why companies should have a website that go beyond relevancy. Now it’s about control, freedom, communication, community, marketing, PR, and support.

Fast forward a few years. We saw pop-up businesses showing up solely on MySpace. If they had a domain, it would take you to their MySpace profile. Then MySpace (mostly) died as did most of those pop-up businesses. I would imagine that this left many “homeless.” Services come and go. That alone should be reason to host our most important assets at a location that we have more control over.

Self-hosted sites have freedom. Freedom of design. Freedom from someone else’s Terms of Service agreements. Freedom from changes that we have no control over. We also have the freedom to build our own communities without competing noise.

Not everyone we know is on Facebook. Far fewer are on Twitter. Or more simply, not everyone wants to participate in a public arena. If someone wants to contact our company with a question or they have a great idea or they’re looking for support, how are they going to do that if we don’t have a website and they aren’t on Facebook or Twitter?

My friend Joe sent me an e-mail earlier this week:


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A friend of mine [Mitch] recently recommended I download the iPhone app, TiKL – Touch to Talk
After checkin’ it briefly – downloaded and installed.

Once I completed the awfully confusing setup process, I realized I had set up the app wrong…I entered Mitch’s number instead of my own. Realizing this, I had Mitch have someone else send him a PTT request over the app just to see if I could intercept it…I could. Now that alone is pretty funny because it’s so broken, but the best part is basically the grave the company has dug for themselves…

First of all, due to Apple’s new(ish) rating system you can’t just automatically rate after download/uninstall.
Second, the ‘TiKL Inc Web Site’ and ‘TiKL – Touch to Talk Support’ listed in iTunes both point to their Facebook page.
Their Facebook ‘Info’ lists as their website…which points to their Facebook page.
I don’t have a Facebook, so I checked their Twitter to see if they had a different website listed…they don’t.

So basically this company has given me two options:

1. Sign up for Facebook -> Send them a message
2. “Why can I put any number in the @TiKLTouchToTalk app and get their PTT request? And why did I have to tweet this?”

Personally, I don’t think I’ll do either, because I’d rather not destroy a company’s rep…but as a convenience to me why wouldn’t I take option 2?

People are beginning to understand the dangers of social media, but it looks like maybe some companies are not.




I think Joe means that people and companies rely too heavily on social media as a means of communication. As of May 1, 2011, ~70% of the online population in the United States is on Facebook. Which means ~30% are not.

After looking for a contact e-mail a second time, I finally located it. First go to their site, which will redirect you to their Facebook page. Click on Notes. Click on Click on FAQ. Scroll to the bottom and it’s right there.


I can understand not providing personalized support because the app costs nothing to download (although ads are served). Spam is probably also lower because the e-mail address is less conspicuous. BUT, It limits feedback. And feedback is critical for any product! Why limit feedback channels? It’s also a good way to lose ad revenue and paying customers down the road.

TiKL FB Status

Couldn’t a forum on a yet-to-exist TiKL website solve all of this? 45,839 people “like” TiKL on Facebook while over 10,000,000 use the app on Android alone. Add in the iPhone users and there’s an awful lot of people who can’t or are choosing not to communicate on Facebook.

We all have 5 senses to communicate information. Any less is a handicap; any more is awesome. Some people choose not to use every “sense;” let’s not alienate those that prefer alternate channels of communication.

Here’s my last-ditch effort to pitch the need for a website: If you have millions and millions of users, you’ve probably made a good product. I’m willing to bet that lots of those people would love to see what else the folks behind TiKL have made and are working on.

Are there reasons not to have a website for a business? Are there other reasons to limit communication?