Posted by: Prospector PJ8 JAN 2009
Happiness is infectious, according to a study published in the BMJ. It has been shown to spread through social networks, creating clusters of happy people.
A longitudinal analysis of the Framingham Heart Study social network found that a friend who lives within a mile and who becomes happy increases one’s chances of being happy by 25 per cent. Compare this with research showing that a $5,000 increase in income improves one’s odds of happiness by just 2 per cent.
A happy sibling living within a mile increases the chances of happiness by 14 per cent and a happy next door neighbour increases one’s chances by 34 per cent. Effects are not seen between co-workers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.
Happiness spreads across three degrees of separation, like the spread of obesity and smoking behaviour, so that a happy friend of a friend of a friend increases the chances of personal happiness by about 6 per cent.
The study’s authors suggest that beyond three connections a kind of social discord saps the transmission of behaviour, almost like a wave.
Dour sentiments contain the infective spread so that, although each happy contact increases a person’s odds of happiness by an average of 9 per cent, an unhappy contact decreases those odds by 7 per cent.
Happiness spreads significantly more through same sex relationships than opposite sex relationships, and a happy co-resident spouse increases one’s chances of happiness by just 8 per cent. This result accords with previous evidence on sex effects in the spread of obesity, and suggests that people might be more likely to take emotional cues from members of the same sex.
The World Health Organization emphasises happiness as a component of health. Researchers in medicine, economics, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology have identified a broad range of stimuli to happiness (or unhappiness) including lottery wins, election, income, job loss, socioeconomic inequality, divorce, illness, bereavement and genes.
This study is the first to address a key determinant of human happiness: the happiness of others.
So, in these gloomy times of recession and cold, dark days, it is worth remembering the words of Vivian Ellis: “Even when the darkest clouds are in the sky / You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry / Spread a little happiness as you go by / Please try.”