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By Karen Kaplan

A study of the relationships of nearly 5,000 people tracked for decades in the Framingham Heart Study shows that good cheer spreads through social networks of nearby family, friends and neighbors.

In a study published online today in the British Medical Journal, scientists from Harvard University and UC San Diego showed that happiness spreads readily through social networks of family members, friends and neighbors.

Knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3% more likely to be happy yourself, the study found. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8%, and even your neighbor’s sister’s friend can give you a 5.6% boost.

“Your emotional state depends not just on actions and choices that you make, but also on actions and choices of other people, many of which you don’t even know,” said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and medical sociologist at Harvard who co-wrote the study.

The research is part of a growing trend to measure well-being as a crucial component of public health. Scientists have documented that people who describe themselves as happy are likely to live longer, even if they have a chronic illness.

The new study “has serious implications for our understanding of the determinants of health and for the design of policies and interventions,” wrote psychologist Andrew Steptoe of University College London and epidemiologist Ana Diez Roux of University of Michigan in an accompanying editorial.

Christakis and UCSD political scientist James H. Fowler examined the relationships of nearly 5,000 people who were tracked for decades as part of the landmark Framingham Heart Study.

They discovered that happy people in close geographic proximity were most effective in spreading their good cheer. They also found the happiest people were at the center of large social networks.

In many regards, they concluded, happiness is like a contagious disease.

“We know people who are most susceptible to HIV are people who have lots of partners,” Fowler said. “This is the same thing.”

This isn’t the first evidence that emotions can spread like a virus. Studies have found that waiters who offer service with a smile are rewarded with bigger tips. On the flip side, having a mildly depressed roommate made college freshmen increasingly depressed themselves.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      (華娃娃) ChinaDoll wrote Mar 19, 2009
    • Totally agreed!

      The only issue I faced is it takes a whole herd of happy people to spread their smiles to cheer one depressed person up.

      And yet one depressed person can bring a whole herd of happy person down.

      Oop... can you understand me?  I can’t understand myself either.  Just consider me B.S.ing.ohhhh



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