Spread a little happiness, the song goes, and that’s a view backed up by evidence in the British Medical Journal. New research by James H Fowler and Nicholas A Christakis shows that the happier your friends are, the happier you’ll be, and no doubt the reverse also applies.
“We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation,” the researchers say. “A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. We found that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and to be located in large clusters of other happy people. And we found that each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%. For comparison, having an extra $5,000 in income (in 1984 dollars) increased the probability of being happy by about 2%.”
“Happiness, in short, is not merely a function of personal experience, but also is a property of groups. Emotions are a collective phenomenon.”
The two professors studied 4,739 people followed from 1983 to 2003 as part of the famous Framingham Heart Study.
Then they went on to look at people in Facebook, studying who tagged each other in photographs and whether they were smiling. There they found that not only were smiling people more likely to be with other smiling people, but they were also more likely to be at the centre of the networks.