It looks like Bobby McFerrin was right when he sang, “don’t worry be happy.” According to a study published in Statistics in Medicine and conducted at Harvard University and the University of California, happiness is contagious.
That’s good news for friends, neighbors, and spouses of happy people. The study found that when a person becomes happy, a friend who lives close to the happy person has a 25 percent higher likelihood of becoming happy too. The spouse of the happy person has an 8 percent increased chance of happiness, and the next-door neighbors have a 34 percent chance. But there’s more.
The researchers conducted a review of other studies, including the ongoing Framingham Heart Study and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Upon analysis the scientists not only found that certain relationships are most impacted by happiness, they propose a theory called the “social contagion theory” of ”three degrees of influence“ This is where the study results get exciting. Lead researcher and professor at Harvard Medical School, Nicholas Christakis, says that “Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.” While that may seem obvious, he adds that the effect goes well beyond the people with whom we have direct contact. When one person becomes happy, the effect can spread by three degrees, which includes friends of friends.
The researchers assessed people’s responses to survey questions, including: “How often during the past week would you say: ‘I enjoyed life? I felt hopeful about the future?’”
Of course, happiness may come in waves and, as a result, there are challenges linked to studying happiness. But, when you consider the belief that there are only 6 degrees of separation linking people, and that we can influence 3 degrees of those people, it is quite a remarkable notion that if we make an effort to be truly happy (no, not the fake stuff!) then we can have a profound effect on those around us.