Happiness is contagious (by Lionel Ketchian)

Happiness is contagious (by Lionel Ketchian)


Happiness can be contagious. This is the discovery that Nicholas Christakis, Harvard University medical sociologist, with James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, have co-authored.

Christakis said: “Happiness is like a stampede. Whether you’re happy depends not just on your own actions and behaviors and thoughts, but on those of people you don’t even know. The things that we do and the things that we feel are going to reverberate throughout our social network.”

They found that when someone gets happy, that person’s friend experiences a 25 percent increased chance of becoming happy. A friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness, and a friend of that friend has a 5.6 percent increased chance of happiness. Fowler said, “I’m not just going to make my sons happy, I could potentially make my sons” friends happy. These little things I thought I was doing for myself turn out to be for hundreds of people.”

Christakis and Fowler were able to map the social networks of 4,739 individuals with data from the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing cardiovascular study. Participants in that study listed contact information for their closest friends, family members and neighbors, connecting the pair of researchers to more than 50,000 social ties.

Fowler and Christakis determined: “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.” Also they state: “Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others. This fact of existence provides a fundamental conceptual justification for the specialty of public health. Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals.”

They found live-in partners can increase the likelihood of their partner being happy by eight percent. Similar effects were seen for siblings, who by living close by have a fourteen percent increase, while even neighbors provided a thirty-four percent jump.

Fowler says, “Friends who are close have an affect; friends who are far away don’t. The less you’re in contact with somebody the less likely you are to catch their happiness.” Another positive discovery as a result of the research is that happiness spreads more faithfully than unhappiness. That is certainly good news. Fowler concluded: “It does appear possibly to be a causal affect; that being happier actually makes you healthier.” The study appears in BMJ, (the British Medical Journal) on Thursday, December 11.

I have been saying for many years that happiness can be contagious. These are my words written in the second column I wrote for the Fairfield Citizen-News on August 23, 2000, in the column entitled BE HAPPY – YOU’RE WORTH IT. “Why be happy? Because it’s the best way to live, and it’s the best way to give. You can’t give away what you haven’t got. When you’re happy, you start to share your happiness with others and show them your happiness and then they can model this behavior from you. They can become aware of happiness through you. They will see the wisdom of choosing to be happy for themselves. They can’t contaminate you with their unhappiness. To the contrary, you will infect them with your happiness. It is about controlling yourself, not others. This is the reason we have the Happiness Club meetings.”

I said the words: “you will infect them with your happiness,” over eight years ago and continue to say it often. I am glad that science has finally found the truth in this statement. This is important, because it means we can positively affect one another with happiness.

Another important thing is encountering happy people face to face. The study concludes that personal meetings with happy people will elevate your happiness level. The study has just validated good reasons for attending Happiness Club meetings. People come to meetings, hear speakers give presentations on various aspects of happiness and they benefit from it. The other benefit is that meeting other happy people will work wonders for you.

At our Fairfield meetings, held at the library, we meet from 7:00 – 9:00 PM to hear the speaker for that evening. After that, I have arranged to have the library stay open for another hour so that people will have an opportunity to meet and talk with one another. The study proves that this is also a beneficial aspect of the meeting because people are infecting and positively affecting one another with happiness by close contact.

It is nice when science can report that what we are doing at our Happiness Clubs is not only helping individuals who attend the meetings but also has a wider effect on outsiders by three degrees of separation. This means that attending a Happiness Club for yourself is a sure way of making a positive change in the entire world.

As Albert Schweitzer has said, ‘sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

Make a difference for yourself, come to a meeting and become happy. Do it for yourself, and you will be doing it for your friends and family as well. Help spread happiness in the world, we need it.

BE HAPPY ZONE by Lionel Ketchian. Published in the Fairfield Citizen-News on December 17, 2008