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The Happy Network

People with a strong circle of close-knit friends can spread happiness far and wide

A group of friends

Spreading some holiday cheer can make the season bright for you, and, according to a study from the British it can spread through a social network – even to people up to three degrees removed.

“Scientists have been interested in happiness for a long time,” says James Fowler, associate professor in political science at the University of California, San Diego. “They’ve studied the effect of everything from winning the lottery to losing your job to getting sick, but they never before considered the full effect of other people. We show that happiness can spread from person to person to person in a chain reaction through social networks.”

Fowler and his research partner, Nicholas Christakis, M.D., used data from the Framingham Heart Study to recreate a social network of 4,739 people whose happiness was measured from 1983 to 2003. To assess the participants’ emotional wellbeing, they relied on answers to four items from the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale: “I felt hopeful about the future”; “I was happy”; “I enjoyed life”; and “I felt that I was just as good as other people.”Their research shows that happiness loves company. Happy people tend to cluster together. However, Fowler and Christakis observed that what matters is not just the total number of connections but the number of happy ones.

According to Fowler and Christakis, happiness spreads in a social network up to three degrees of separation. You are 15 percent more likely to be happy if directly connected to a happy person; 10 percent if it’s the friend of a friend who is happy; and 6 percent if it’s the friend of a friend of a friend.To be happier, Fowler suggests taking greater responsibility for your own happiness because it affects dozens of others.

“The pursuit of happiness is not a solitary goal. We are connected, and so is our joy,” Fowler says.

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