Laugh and the World Laughs Too: Happiness is Contagious

Ever wonder whether happy people have something you don't, something that keeps them cheerful, chipper and able to see the good in everything? It turns out they do — they have happy friends.

That's the conclusion of researchers from Harvard and the University of California at San Diego, who report in the British Medical Journal online that happiness spreads among people like a salubrious disease. Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler studied nearly 5,000 people and their more than 50,000 social ties to family, friends and co-workers, and found that an individual's happiness is chiefly a collective affair, depending in large part on his or her friends' happiness — and the happiness of their friends' friends, and even the friends of their friends' friends. The merriment of one person, the researchers found, can  cause happiness in people up to three degrees away. So 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.

The idea of mood transfer is not exactly revolutionary. It makes sense, after all, that your happiness will affect your closest friends, and that their emotional state will influence your own. What was less expected was that the effect was sustained up to three degrees of separation away, among people who may not necessarily know one another. You may owe your good cheer to your friend's brother's girlfriend, even if you don't know her name.

Researchers found that the risk of catching happiness increased with proximity: so 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.

The researchers' hope is that a better understanding of how people pick up and pass on behaviors will help health officials create more targeted public-health messages. Antismoking campaigns aimed at teens, for example, might be more powerful if they were geared toward the most socially connected students in a high school — rather than individual smokers. (Time)

 

VOCABULARY

contagious : infectious

chipper: energetic, lively

(to) turn out: (to) seem

tie: relationship

affair: case, thing

merriment: happiness

(to) be  sustained : (to) be carried

cheer:  mood, feeling

proximity: closeness

across: on the far side of, beyond

(to) pick up: (to) learn

(to) pass on: (to) transfer, (to) communicate

to gear : (to) aim at