The Contagion of Happiness

In a 20-year study of almost 5,000 people it was found that hap­pi­ness is more con­ta­gious than pre­vi­ously thought.

While there are many determ­in­ants of hap­pi­ness, wheth­er an indi­vidu­al is happy also depends on wheth­er oth­ers in the indi­vidu­al’s social net­work are happy. Happy people tend to be loc­ated in the centre of their loc­al social net­works and in large clusters of oth­er happy people. The hap­pi­ness of an indi­vidu­al is asso­ci­ated with the hap­pi­ness of people up to three degrees removed in the social net­work. Hap­pi­ness, in oth­er words, is not merely a func­tion of indi­vidu­al exper­i­ence or indi­vidu­al choice but is also a prop­erty of groups of people. Indeed, changes in indi­vidu­al hap­pi­ness can ripple through social net­works and gen­er­ate large scale struc­ture in the net­work, giv­ing rise to clusters of happy and unhappy indi­vidu­als. These res­ults are even more remark­able con­sid­er­ing that hap­pi­ness requires close phys­ic­al prox­im­ity to spread and that the effect decays over time.

The New York Times cov­ers the find­ings, pro­du­cing two typ­ic­ally eleg­ant graph­ics to dis­play some of the fas­cin­at­ing res­ults (for example, it was found that a neigh­bour’s mood effects your hap­pi­ness drastic­ally more than a cohab­it­ing spouse’s).

The authors of the study—who evid­ently spe­cial­ise in social net­work analysis—have pre­vi­ously found that both obesity and quit­ting smoking are socially con­ta­gious; but should we really be infer­ring these “net­work effect” con­clu­sions?

Anoth­er art­icle, prin­ted in the same issue of the Brit­ish Med­ic­al Journ­al, uses the same research design to show how it can lead to con­clu­sions that dis­ap­pear once envir­on­ment­al con­founders are controlled—in this case find­ing that height, head­aches, and acne are con­ta­gious, when this con­clu­sion is evid­ently a con­fu­sion between cor­rel­a­tion and caus­a­tion.

via Mind Hacks

2 thoughts on “The Contagion of Happiness

  1. Annerose

    I think that LOVE is the real motor of hap­pi­ness, without love you are in dif­fi­cult to be happy. Now you may love your neigh­bour, your child, any­body, but that is this love which makes you happy,; no hap­pi­ness without love expressed in your mind

  2. the messiah

    if hap­pi­ness = love then i agree , it is indeed con­ta­gious it is the same thing expressed in the power of pos­it­ive think­ing

Comments are closed.