Happiness: The Only Contagious Thing Worth Catching

Illustration for article titled Happiness: The Only Contagious Thing Worth Catching

Misery, as they say, loves company. But as it turns out, happiness loves company even more. A new study published in the British Medical Journal online claims that happiness is contagious, and that the source of happiness for many people is their extended social network: not only do your friends have a direct impact on your happiness, but your friends' friends and your friends' friends' friends do as well. As Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University explains, "If you imagine the fabric of humanity as a patchwork quilt, it turns out if you're happy or not depends on if you're in a happy or unhappy patch."


The study, which was originally taken as the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, compiles data taken between 1983 and 2003, wherein 4,739 subjects were asked to report on their emotional states three times per year. Their "social contacts" were also asked similar questions, which gave researchers the ability to map out the effects of happiness along a social network spectrum. The study shows a cluster-like effect taking place around the happiest people in every social group: people tend to be drawn to the happiest among us, and their happiness ripples to the outer layers of a social group, touching each member as it goes.

It helps to look at it this way: the happiest person in your crew is the Sun, you could say, and you and your friends are the rest of the solar system. The most unhappy person would be the recently-demoted Pluto, covered in ice and hiding in relative darkness. Yet still: the sun's rays touch Pluto, much like the happiness of your happiest friend spreads a bit of happiness to your most unhappy friend. Or, as Alice Park of Time reports: "If you're happy, you increase the chance of joy in your close friend by 25%; a friend of that friend enjoys a 10% increased chance. And that friend's friend has a 5.6% higher chance."


Like all things contagious, proximity plays a big part in the spread of happiness. As Park notes, "A next-door neighbor enjoys a 34% increased chance of happiness by living near a happy person, but a friend who lives across town is less affected." So while you and your immediate circle of friends may have a large impact on one another's happiness, your friend from 4 states away may not feel the effects of your moods as much.

How do you feel about this study? Do you find yourself drawn to happy people? And do you feel happier after having been near them? Though misery is said to love company, the study actually shows that unhappiness is less contagious than happiness, so perhaps even for the kids living on sad ol' Pluto, we're all looking for a bit of sunshine in our lives, where ever we can find it.

Happiness Is Contagious, New Study Shows [Chicago Tribune]
Laugh And The World Laughs Too: Happiness Is Contagious [Time]

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I absolutely love this idea. Even if it turns out to not be true I am going to believe it is, maybe it will give me an incentive to actually make more friends.