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.