Friday, January 9, 2009

Happiness is Contagious

Happiness is Contagious!

Our social brains are {happily} vulnerable to the emotional happiness of those around us. Both Harvard and University of California medical researchers working together have just reported (December, 2008) that happiness spreads like a virus through social networks (friends, family, co-workers, teammates, neighbors).

Your happiness can influence (and IS, in turn, influenced by) the happiness of the folks you hang out with. But wait, there’s more! The study showed that your perceptions of being happy not only increase with the happiness of your friends, but also with the friends’ friends’ friends. People you do not know and have never met. A big scholarly “Wow!”

If you love statistics, they’ve got plenty [though the concept is intriguing without numbers]:

• Someone close to you who is happy increases your chances of then becoming happy by 15%.
• Second-degree social contacts (friend of a friend, husband of a friend, co-worker of a friend, for example) still increases your chances of then becoming happy by 10%.
• Even third-degree social contacts who are happy (friend of a friend of a friend) increase your chances of becoming happy by 6%.

We’ve always known that people increase their chances of being somewhat happy by HAVING friends. Now we know that we can really bolster our happiness by choosing to associate with HAPPIER people. Further, we know that our own states of happiness are {happily, again} influencing the friends of our friends . . .

What about sadness—is it contagious, too? Fortunately, not so much. Yes, someone in our own social network can bum us out with their gloom, but it seems to spread less rapidly and less effectively.

Check out the study online in the British Medical Journal, which analyzed happiness scales from 1983 to 2003 of thousands of participants, who were asked to name family members, close friends, co-workers, and neighbors. As a result, more than 50,000 social ties were analyzed to examine the spread of happiness through groups.

“Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham heart study,” James H. Fowler and Nicolas A. Christakis, BMJ, December, 2008.



  1. Thanks for the nice comment on my blog! I'm finally getting used to the bangs and like them more now. I'm interested in reading the paper you mentioned in this entry but my thesis has taken over my life and I haven't had time to read. So sad!

  2. I know this isn't directly related to the study, but it seems like this is why reading the newspaper can be so's often like spending time with a very unhappy friend that you can't cheer up. Just a very unscientific musing.