Is happiness contagious?

This week we are going to talk about an article published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ, for short). The authors from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard, wanted to evaluate whether happiness can spread from person to person. Their results may surprise you!


What determines happiness?

We know that happiness is a tough concept to get our hands on. Nathanial Hawthorne said that “happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp,” which seems to be an accurate summary. A whole bunch of different things can contribute to how happy we feel at any one time. Things like our health, grades, income, politics, and the news can all affect our happiness. But, the authors of the study suggest that the happiness of others may be a key determinant of our happiness. Said another way: people who surround themselves with happy people, are happy.

There is a relationship between us and others when it comes to happiness

The results from the study of our social networks suggest that happy people tend to be connected to each other. In fact, a person is 15.3% more likely to be happy if directly connected to someone who is happy! That is pretty amazing. The way we feel about ourselves actually impacts how those who are close to us feel. Similarly, the way the people close to us feel about themselves will affect how we feel about ourselves. The happiness effect does not stop at direct connections, however. A person who is connected to a person who is connected to a happy person is almost 10% more likely to be happy. And a person who is three degrees removed from a happy person, the effect is 5.6%. That means just knowing a happy person increases the likelihood that you will be happy.

Get connected and get happy

Furthermore, the article reports that the better connected one’s friends and family, the more likely one will attain happiness in the future. Suggesting that the people who surround themselves with others are likely to be happy, and that is likely to spread. In more good news, the article suggests that happy friends make us happier. But, unhappy friends do not make us equally as unhappy. In other words, adding happy friends to your network is likely to boost the overall happiness of the network. But don’t forget about the unhappy folks too. The happy group is more likely to lift them up, rather than be “brought down.”

What about happy neighbors??

The news gets better! If your happy friends live within a mile of you, the probability that you increase your happiness goes up by 25%. There is good news for adults as well: married couples who become happy increase the happiness of their spouse by 8%. And siblings who live near each other increase happiness by 14%. Happy neighbors? They increase your happiness by 34%! Sadly, there was not any affect from happy coworkers…

In summary

Changes in happiness can ripple through social groups. The happiness of an individual is associated with the happiness of people up to three degrees removed from them. Happiness is not simply a function of individual experience/choice, it may be a property of groups of people. What is tough about our current socially-isolated state is that happiness requires close physical proximity to spread. The health and well-being of others really does affect us, personally. Which is likely why the times we are living through are so uniquely challenging. But, if we can stay connected to each other, and support one-another with care and kindness we will make it. Happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals. We are wrapped up in the health and well-being of others. And that is a thought that brings me hope.

Check out the article from BJM: Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study

Check out a few other articles from Stand4Kind:

COVID-19 closed schools? Student tips for time at home

Understanding the bystander effect

Teachers: Create bully-free classrooms

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