December 11, 2008

Happiness is Contagious

Dinner: Mole in Hole and Diet Coke With a Side of Happiness
"Dinner: Mole in Hole and Diet Coke With a Side of Happiness," by Elizabeth McQuern, on Flickr.

As you can see on the computer screen in the photo, I'm spending my dinnertime researching the contagious nature of happiness, based on a re-examination of data from the Framingham Heart Study. Someone else re-examined the data, I mean. Not me. Heh.

So the Framingham (Massachusetts) Heart Study is this incredibly detailed and very close study of thousands of individuals that was begun in 1948, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in collaboration with Boston University. Data gathered from it has been used in countless eye-opening studies.

Here's what I found out, courtesy of the BMJ:

"Clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in the network, and the relationship between people’s happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one’s friends’ friends). People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future."

I think it makes perfect sense that people who don't know each other directly affect each other's lives. I have seen that, especially in cases of people with dense social networks and frequent interaction, like me, we affect the lives of people two and three degrees out.

Also, this is really interesting: "Effects are not seen between coworkers." Maybe businesses are measurably full of crap when they say "We're all one big happy family here at Spacely Spork Inc!"

And this part is extra awesome: "Happiness is a fundamental object of human existence,1 so much so that the World Health Organization is increasingly emphasising happiness as a component of health."

So, essentially, you're only as happy as your friends. So cheer up, you sad sacks of crap! Ha ha. Just kidding.


Joe said...

I find this stuff fascinating. I work in a really unhappy place with a lot of complaining and bitterness. A few years ago I read a book by some shrink titled "Learned Optimism". Anyway, I started to go off track there. What I meant to say was, I haven't seen the proof (as in the study) that happiness is contagious, but I've definitely seen that unhappiness is. And how.

Elizabeth McQuern said...

I think everything is contagious, seriously, in terms of emotion and psychology. Not that there aren't biological reasons for these things, too. Misery, joy...if you're feeling it, I'm feeling it.