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Spreading Happiness

December 23, 2008

Happiness spreads through networks of people like a contagion.


The happiness network. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Only you can make yourself happy, right? Sounds like good advice, but it turns out that your own happiness may actually be strongly influenced by that of your friends and family. This according to James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School. They studied relationships between 5,000 people whose happiness had been measured over the course of 20 years. Fowler says that each happy friend or close relative increases your likelihood of being happy by 15%. And if a friend’s friend is happy, your chances go up another 10%.

JAMES FOWLER (University of California, San Diego):
The effect even extends up to three degrees, so if my friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy, it increases the likelihood that I’ll become happy by 6%.

He says we may be hardwired to spread happiness because it fosters social harmony. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.