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Blog

Why happiness is contagious

06·12·13

The festive season often has our facebook and twitter newsfeeds filled with photos and updates of parties, family gatherings, gratitude and best wishes. But is this display of happiness good for us?

US researchers from Harvard Medical School seem to think so, suggesting that happiness from a few people can lift the spirits of the whole group. The study on happiness in social networks was part of a larger long-term heart study called the Framington Heart Study, which has been running since 1948.

The researchers found that people who reported being happy were more likely to be part of the same social network. In fact, it seems that happiness tends to spread like a virus, improving the overall happiness of the group.

A happy person can increase the happiness of first-degree contacts (a spouse or close friends) by 15 percent; second-degree contacts (a friend of a friend) by 10 percent; and third-degree contacts by six percent, even if you have never met them.

“We’ve found that your emotional state may depend on the emotional experiences of people you don’t even know, who are two to three degrees removed from you,” saidco-author of the study and Harvard Medical School professor Nicholas Christakis.

The researchers also found that distance matters—the closer you are geographically to people in your network, the more the happiness is likely to spread. However, according to this study, a happy person in the workplace has no effect on the happiness of others.

Happiness isn’t the only trait that has been shown to run in groups. Past studies have found that people are more likely to put on weight, or quit smoking, if other people in their social network are doing so.

So how can you share some happiness amongst your social networks this Christmas?

Try to be happy

According to research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, people who actively try to feel happier find themselves experiencing more positive moods and a boost to emotional wellbeing.

Skip the small talk

A study published in Psychological Science found that those who take part in more substantive conversation and less trivial chit chat experienced more feelings of satisfaction.

Build a strong network of family and friends

“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends, and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends,” says Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

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