The secret to happiness? Contagion! Wait! What? Seriously?

Happiness: We All Want More

A Google search for “happiness” produces more than a billion results and is one of the more frequently used search terms.

Happiness is the most common promise made by sales people since the development of consumerism. “Buy this product and you will be happier” is the age old promise of almost every sales pitch and advert.

A study by Harvard Medical School, that looked at nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of 20 years, has revealed a surprising source of happiness.

It’s not any product you can buy.

It’s not money.

It’s not sex.

Incredibly, your happiness can be increased by someone you have never spoken to, have never met, and don’t even know exists.

Research shows that one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his friends, but his friends’ friends, and his friends’ friends’ friends. That’s three degrees of separation!

And it doesn’t have to be family or relatives – or people emotionally close to you – but physically close, like your next door neighbours.

The researchers found that when an individual becomes happy, a friend living within a mile experiences a 25 percent increased chance of becoming happy. A co-resident spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance, siblings living within one mile have a 14 percent increased chance, and for next door neighbors, 34 percent chance of becoming happier.

But the real surprise came with indirect relationships. Again, while an individual becoming happy increases his friend’s chances, a friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness. Furthermore, a friend of *that* friend has a 5.6 percent increased chanceā€”a three-degree cascade.

So a friend of a friend of a friend could have made you happier, and you don’t even know them.

Happiness can spread, like a contagious infection, through a linked network of people. And the “happiness infection” can spread as far as 3 degrees of separation.

This doesn’t happen by telepathy though. It’s not some mystical “force” or “energy” that spreads the happiness. That would be ridiculous. The spread of happiness obviously depends on some form of communication between the network of friends.

But that doesn’t have to be physical contact.

Phone calls, Facebook, messaging, online chats etc. can all spread happiness from one person to another.

And then that happiness can spread to the next person.

The effect lasts for up to one year.

These effects are limited by both time and space. The closer a friend lives to you, the stronger the emotional contagion. But as distance increases, the effect dissipates. This explains why next door neighbors have an effect, but not neighbors who live around the block.

Thankfully, sadness does not spread through social networks as effectively as happiness. So an unhappy friend of a friend will not make you unhappy.

But you might be able to cheer them up, eventually, by being happier yourself!


Photo Credits : Happy Friends by Sharefaith on