July 09, 2020   2:00pm

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Happiness is Contagious

Recent research sent to us by our friend Brad Grossman* who publishes the “The Zeitguide”  …

Your happiness is directly correlated with that of the people around you; not just your friends, but your friends’ friends, as well.

That’s what Nicholas A. Christakis, physician, sociologist, and Professor at Harvard, and James H. Fowler, internationally recognized political scientist, profess in their recently published paper in the British Medical Journal. Using happiness data collected from nearly 5,000 people and the people close to them over the course of 20 years, the two researchers concluded that the happiest people tend to be at the center of their social networks and that happy people associate in clusters. Based on their studies, an additional $5,000 in income increases the probability of happiness by 2%; an extra happy friend ups the probability by 9%.

They supplemented their study with additional consideration of online social networks (Facebook, MySpace), examining profiles of people who knew each other and looking at pictures to determine who was smiling often and who were smiling in pictures together. The same conclusions were drawn from the online study: happy people cluster together, as do unhappy people.

“Hear” more from NPR  …  link to the actual academic paper in the British Medical Journal or read a study synopses by the researchers … 

NPR, December 15, 2008

Turns out, misery may not love company – but happiness does, research suggests.

A new study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego documents how happiness spreads through social networks.

They found that when a person becomes happy, a friend living close by has a 25 percent higher chance of becoming happy themselves. A spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance and for next-door neighbors, it’s 34 percent.

“Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness,” says Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study.

Perhaps more surprising, Christakis says, is that the effect extends beyond the people we come into contact with. When one person becomes happy, the social network effect can spread up to 3 degrees – reaching friends of friends.

To study the spread of emotion, the researchers plotted out the social connections of about 5,000 individuals enrolled in the ongoing Framingham Heart Study.

On three separate occasions between 1984 and 2003, the participants filled out a questionnaire designed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies to assess depression and emotional health.

To measure happiness, Christakis relied on people’s answers to four questions in the survey, including: “How often during the past week would you say: I enjoyed life? I felt hopeful about the future?”

When he and his colleagues plotted out how the happy and unhappy participants were connected in social space, an interesting picture emerged.

“We find that people at the center of the social network tend to be happier,” says co-author James Fowler, a political science professor at U.C. San Diego.

Imagine a birds-eye view of a party: “You may see some people in quiet corners talking one-on-one,” Fowler says. Others would be at the center of the room having conversations with lots of people. According to the study findings, those in the center would be among the happiest.

“We think the reason why is because those in the center are more susceptible to the waves of happiness that spread throughout the network,” Fowler explains.

Of course, it’s true that emotions can be fleeting; happiness is elusive and sometimes it’s situational. For these reasons, emotional states are difficult to measure, says Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “There are lots of challenges.”

Nonetheless, Provine, who has studied the contagion of laughter, says this study is impressive in showing that moods can be contagious, too.


THE RESEARCH STUDY as published in : Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study  by James H Fowler, associate professor1, Nicholas A Christakis, professor2; 1 Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA , 2 Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, and Department of Sociology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Objectives: To evaluate whether happiness can spread from person to person and whether niches of happiness form within social networks.

Participants: 4739 individuals followed from 1983 to 2003.

Main outcome measures: Happiness measured with validated four item scale; broad array of attributes of social networks and diverse social ties.

Results Clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in the network, and the relationship between people’s happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one’s friends’ friends). People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future. Longitudinal statistical models suggest that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals. A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that a person is happy by 25% (95% confidence interval 1% to 57%). Similar effects are seen in coresident spouses (8%, 0.2% to 16%), siblings who live within a mile (14%, 1% to 28%), and next door neighbours (34%, 7% to 70%). Effects are not seen between coworkers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.

Conclusions: People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.

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Brad Grossman, Innovation through Knowledge and Networks, publisher of “The Zeitguide,” grossman.brad@gmail.com, 310 614 4779

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