Research shows happines is highly contagious

Here’s an important thing to know about happiness:

“Happiness is a social emotion. It’s an emotion that we derive from social events… Happiness is not simply about me.”

A fascinating study published online yesterday in the British Medical Journal has confirmed what we already know, namely that happiness is contagious and that we are all affected by the moods of the people around us.

But his study goes a step further by mapping those connections and influences among nearly 5,000 individuals over 20 years and the

Here’s the skinny:

Fowler and Christakis were able to map the social networks of 4,739 individuals with data from the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing cardiovascular study. Participants in that study listed contact information for their closest friends, family members and neighbors, connecting the pair of researchers to more than 50,000 social ties.

The researchers used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Index — a standard set of questions psychologists use to measure happiness — to analyze the cheeriness of the study participants.

They found that when someone gets happy, that person’s friend experiences a 25 percent increased chance of becoming happy. A friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness, and a friend of that friend has a 5.6 percent increased chance of happiness.

That means a stranger’s good mood can do more to lift your spirits than a $5,000 raise, which only increased happiness 2 percent, Fowler and Christakis found.


So what about bad moods? Surprisingly (to me anyway), this study found that sadness is less contagious:

Sadness doesn’t infect a social group as reliably happiness does, researchers found. Within some friendship networks, sadness had a significant effect on the members of the group, but on others, the effect was very small.

Why? Because, the study says, sadness makes you pull away from others, thus giving them less exposure to your bad mood.

This is really interesting with respect to bad moods at work – because at work, if you have a really rotten day, there’s really no way to pull back from social interactions, meetings and conversations, exposing your co-workers the full brunt of your bad mood.


15 thoughts on “Research shows happines is highly contagious”

  1. Interesting study. Thank you for sharing this.

    Re: Bad moods – I wonder if normal sadness or grumpiness is somehow categorically different from low morale? Because in my observation, low morale spreads pretty quickly and effectively in the workplace!

  2. I read that this morning in the Washington Post Express (free version of WaPo handed out in the metro DC area). I immediately thought of this site.

    Reading Maria’s comment… It seems reasonable to me that bad moods / low morale would be more likely to spread in a work environment than society at large. As the study said, sadness (in general) can make you pull away from people in your social network. At work, however, your “social network” is your coworkers, and being sad doesn’t afford you the opportunity to pull away from them–there’s a bit of a forced interaction aspect there. So, I’d wager that bad moods are just as likely to spread through an office as are good moods, whereas the same doesn’t hold true for society at large.

    Then again, that’s just my estimate. KF

  3. Aloooo HA!
    I am going to fly to Mexico to teach Laughter Yoga and one of the participants has asked me to talk about crying…
    What do you think about me mentioning this article and saying Laughter is a social glue, while crying is the opposite?

    I think there is some text missing on the third paragraph on your article :o)

  4. Ahh the wonders of google…it leads me to amazing sites like this! I have read somewhere before that happiness is contagious, but didn’t know that a study was actually conducted to support this claim!

  5. Hi Alex

    Fascinating research, and certainly very encouraging. Could you, however, clarify the definition of happiness used for the study? I think that would make the findings even more relevant for me, and – given some of the other comments – perhaps for others too.

    There seems to be an assumption that sadness is the opposite of happiness, and – IN A WORK ENVIRONMENT – I am not sure just how valid that is. For starters I think dissatisfaction might be just as valid, and that is what leads to low morale that Maria refers to. In my own work experience I have seen people giving vent to their frustrations, and that leads to other doing the same, and before you know it, everyone is describin their woes in the same manner as people do describing their health problems. This is a very contagious and destructive force, and is perhaps evidenced in research that shows low levels of employee engagement..

    I am therefore looking for more postives from your research because I suspect that happiness is not quite so contagious in a work environment because a work environment is often more competitive – and frequently as a direct consequence of deliberate strategy. So whereas good experiences do encourage happiness and that is conatgaious in SOCIAL situations, where there is competition or even conflict it is more likely to increase a sense of envy and the good happening to others and not to us, and so it makes us more dissatisfied and hence less happy.

    I don’t know; just my thoughts, but I would love to know what others think, and whether they agree that the definition is imprtant! It is no way affects my conviction that we need to do more to stimulate greater happiness in the workplace. The broader understanding may contribute, by helping remove the barriers!


  6. Hi there, I have been following you for some time because I love your work. I have long believed that happiness at work is often overlooked and that happiness and creativity are closely linked. I have always read stuff on this from a personal development standpoint as opposed to a scientific, quantifiable standpoint.

    As a coach, I focus on the goal of increased happiness and creativity as tools for self leadership.

    Great to know you. Keep up with the great findings.


  7. Wow, great post and great site!!! I am a first time visitor and will certainly be returning.

    I know that I try to go through life doing as little harm possible, while putting out as many good vibes as I can. I firmly believe in both the golden rule and kharma and work to spread the message of goodness to all I know.

    This obviously can be a challenging philosophy in the work place, and I admit I do have to really turn the other cheek and put on a smile even when I really feel like being angry, mean or rude. Happiness begets happiness after all.

    I look forward to reading your book.

  8. It’s so true. I’ve been making an effort to be more upbeat and positive and I’ve noticed when I smile and say “hello” to someone who looks cranky they seem to brighten up a little bit, if only for a moment.

  9. Yes, we all want to be around happy people, you know the saying – laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cray alone !

    We got these ‘Tips to a Better Life’ in from one commentator to our blog and it is very positive free advice (no trips to the therapist required) and if you read them you will say – yes the simple things in life are free. Remember we are all born to die, we just don’t know when, so enjoy life’s journey it’s a one way trip !

    Money won’t buy you happiness, just look at so many rich people with miserable faces !


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