Monday, December 9, 2013

Happiness Is 'Infectious' In Network Of Friends

Happiness is 'infectious' in network of friends: collective -- not just individual – phenomenon.

If you're happy and you know it, thank your friends—and their friends. But if you're sad, hold the blame. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego have found that "happiness" is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion.

The researchers

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH,  Professor of Medical Sociology in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School; Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and an Attending Physician in the Department of Medicine at the Harvard-affiliated Mt. Auburn Hospital.

analyzed information on the happiness of 4,739 people and their connections with several thousand others — spouses, relatives, close friends, neighbors and co-workers — from 1983 to 2003.

The graph shows the largest component of friends, spouses and siblings in 2000.
Circles are females, squares are males and the lines between them indicate relationships (black for siblings, red for friends and spouses).
Colors show the average happiness of a person and all of his or her social relations, with blue for sad, yellow for happy and shades of green for in-between

The study found that when an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees.

The happiest people tend to be the ones in the centre.

One person's happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends. The effect lasts for up to one year.

Sadness does not spread through social networks as strongly as happiness.

Happiness appears to love company more so than misery.

Researchers also found that, contrary to what your parents taught you, popularity does lead to happiness.

Someone you don't know and have never met—the friend of a friend of a friend—can have a greater influence than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket.

Christakis and Fowler, the researchers of the project, practically showed that our health is affected by our social context. A cheery next-door neighbor has more effect on your happiness than your spouse’s mood.  

Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon.

And people in the centre of social networks are happier than those on the fringes.


How often do you feel happy? Are you the centre or a fading fringe?


James H Fowler, Nicholas A Christakis. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, December 4, 2008.  

Natalia Levis-Fox

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