Research: Happiness is Contagious


Authored by Jon Mercer in Medical Science
Published on 12-21-2008

A two decade study of nearly 5,000 people by the Framingham Heart Study has proven that good cheer spreads through social networks of nearby family, friends and neighbors. In a study published by the British Medical Journal, Harvard University, and UC San Diego, scientists have demonstrated that knowing someone who is happy gives you a 15.3% greater chance of being happy yourself. Even a happy “friend of a friend” increases your odds of happiness by 9.8%. And people who you may barely know, but encounter briefly in day to day life, can increase your chances of being happy by 5.6%.

The study is based on the premise that everyone’s emotional state depends not only on actions and choices, but also on the actions and choices of people you may not even know. This research is part of a growing trend of linking emotional health and well-being as a crucial part of physical health. Science has documented that happy people are likely to live longer, often even if they have a chronic illness.

Researchers have discovered that the happiest people are those at the center of large social networks, and that those in close geographic proximity to others are most effective in spreading their good cheer. The study tracked the participants and their friends and family, including many who were also study volunteers. This allowed researchers to track multiple relationships for each participant throughout several degrees of separation.

Through similar studies, researchers have proven that obesity and smoking were also spread among groups of friends and relatives. To asses the happiness of each study participant, scientist relied on how much volunteers said that they agreed with statements like “I was happy”, and “I enjoyed life”. The participants were asked these questions three times between 1983 and 2003.

If you have a happy friend who lives within a half mile of you, this could make you 42% more likely to be happy. If that same friend lives two miles away, their impact drops to 22%. According to the study happy friends who are more distant have no discernible effect on the subjects. Happy siblings make you 14% more likely to be happy, but only if they live within one mile. A happy spouse can make you 8% happier, but only if you live under the same roof.

The study has proven conclusively that emotions are spread through the frequency of contact. The only exception was that of co-workers. Perhaps there is something about the average work environment that prevents happiness from spreading there?


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