Friends of Your Friends’ Friends

December 15th, 2008 | Sources: British Medical Journal, NY Times, Washington Post

Happiness is contagious, or at least that’s how 2 scientists explain what they observed when they analyzed self-reported data on emotional well-being from the Framingham Heart Study.

In addition to their emotions, study participants had also identified family members, friends and employers participating the Study. The resulting 50,000 social ties enabled the scientists to map out a happiness grid.

They used it to track happiness as it ebbed and flowed among residents of the Massachusetts city.

They concluded in the British Medical Journal that happy people caused family members and friends but not coworkers to become happy and the impact extended out, albeit with decaying strength, to 3 degrees of separation (the friends of one’s friends’ friends). 

Surprisingly, happy people were 3 times more likely to cause close friends to become happy than their spouses.

“You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience,” Nicholas Christakis told the Washington Post.

But the study’s co-author claims his findings show that “it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected.”

“It’s a pathfinding article,” decorated psychologist Martin Seligman gushed to the Post.  The professor at the University of Pennsylvania added, “It’s totally original, and the findings are striking.”

“This now makes me feel so much more responsible that I know that when I come home in a bad mood I’m not only affecting my wife and son but my son’s best friend or my wife’s brother,” study co-author James Fowler told the New York Times.

Maybe, maybe not. A post appearing later today offers another way to interpret the data.


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