Happiness expert Dr Andy Cope tells us why it pays to make others happy

Happiness expert Dr Andy Cope tells us why it pays to make others happy in this blog.

We can pretend that males and females are the same, but they’re actually not. Males are endowed with physical strength. Guys were designed to chase and wrestle with warthogs, drag the carcass home and, crucially, know which was home. Females can do those things too, but with smaller warthogs, and the way home might be less clear. Sometimes left and right get confused. But evolution has compensated by giving the female of the species a whole load of emotional superpowers. Generally speaking, females have less physical strength but a finely honed ability to ‘tune in’ to emotions as well as mastery of the dark art of understanding the meaning of what hasn’t been said.

Happiness expert Dr andy cope wearing a yellow shirt posing for mums magazine

The biggest difference between women and men is in the area of emotional empathy. If someone is upset, or the emotions are disturbing, women’s brains tend to stay with those feelings. But men’s brains do something else: they sense the feelings for a moment, then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas that try to solve the problem that’s creating the disturbance.

Therefore women’s complaint that men are tuned out emotionally is most probably true. But please bear in mind, it’s not that men don’t care, it’s just that our brains are looking to seek a solution, rather than get mired in the emotion.

There are advantages to both. The male tune-out works well when there’s a need to insulate yourself against distress so you can stay calm, keep a clear head and make a rational decision. This partly explains why, according to the stereotype, men are calm, rational and rarely swayed by emotion. In times gone by, this stolid patriarchal, ‘wait till your father gets home’ approach meant that the dad acted as disciplinarian. So, emotional detachment was the way things were. It’s what men saw other men doing and the stereotype was passed down through the generations. Please note, I’m not trawling through history from the year dot – this is fairly recent stuff.

The female tendency to stay tuned in helps to nurture and support others in emotional trying circumstances. It’s part of the ‘tend-and-befriend’ response to stress.

Here are a couple of things about emotional intelligence that are absolutely worth knowing.

First up, the concept of ‘emotional soup’ suggests that in any social situation, everyone is adding a certain ‘flavour’ to the atmosphere. Two things spring to mind: first, dare to ask yourself what flavour you are adding to your family and/or workplace soup. Are you coming through the door with joy and enthusiasm or are you poisoning the atmosphere with toxicity? And, second, not all family members are equal. Yes, everyone is adding something to the emotional soup but, as a parent, you are adding the most. For ‘parent’ read ‘leader without a title’ – your emotional contagion is massive.


If we take this to the next level, science tells us that your ‘emotional spillage’ creates a ripple effect that reaches 3 degrees of people removed from you. On a good day your positivity bubbles over, creating an uplift in those around you. And on a reaaaaally good day you are a mini emotional Vesuvius, sending an ash of joy that settles on people far and wide.


Bottom line? You, in TGI Friday mode, are positively impacting on your friends, your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends. If we apply the ripple effect to a simple situation, say, the workplace; you coming in full of genuine enthusiasm and positivity will resonate with your work colleagues. They will experience an upward spiral of emotions simply because you’re in their life.

But it doesn’t stop there. Your work colleagues then go home to their families and because they’re feeling great, their family is now benefiting from your positivity.

But it doesn’t stop there either! One of those family members pops out to the supermarket and has some banter with the lady on the checkout and she’s now feeling more positive.

Just to be clear, you haven’t met your work colleagues’ family or the lady on the checkout, but all of those people are feeling great because of you. Your joie de vivre has leaked! It’s your gift to the world and oh so simple.


So I’ll leave you with what Steve McDermott calls the 4-minute rule. Coming under the parenting heading of ‘small change, big impact’, it works because it’s both. If we do away with the science of ‘it is a proven thing that you have data for?’ and cut to the chase, it’s this; it takes about 4 minutes for those around you to truly catch your emotional state.


Same thing said the other way around; you cannot NOT have an impact on other people.

How refreshingly simple is that. That’s the first 4 minutes of coming into the office (happy, energetic, enthusiastic), going home, meal times, a business meeting – get the first 4 minutes right and everyone will have almost no choice but to catch your enthusiasm.


It’s the smallest change that’s had the biggest impact on my life.


The question worth asking before you step through the door tonight is therefore  – how would the best mum in the world go through the door?

The first 4 minutes is like lighting a firework. All you have to do is come through the door with a smile and some enthusiasm, then step back and watch your kids sparkle. Changing your wordage from ‘how was your day?’ to ‘tell me about the highlight of your day?’ is subtle. It’s not a big change but, I promise, is a very big deal. 

With practice, these top tips become a habit. Remember, in Positive Psychology, practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent!

Dr Andy Cope is a happiness expert and bestselling author of The Little Book of Being Brilliant available now on Amazon. Find out more about Andy at www.artofbrilliance.co.uk.

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