That Happiness Study? Oh Come On!

December 15th, 2008 | Sources: British Medical Journal

In the latest and by far the biggest buzz-producer on the subject, Christakis and Fowler concluded that happiness is contagious.  If your friends become happy, sooner or later you will too. 

Yea right.

Tell that to the 6 Yankee fans living in Boston in October, 2004 when their team experienced the greatest collapse in American sports history, at the hands of the dreaded Sawx no less.

Those few-and-far-between Yankee fans were immersed by a wave of collective happiness involving essentially everybody within a 200 mile radius. The celebration continued well after the Townies rolled to their first World Series victory in 86 years.

How happy were people in Boston? 60 year-old men wept openly and wished only that their fathers were still alive to share the joy. 40 year-olds wept too. They hoped their little ones would remember where they were when it happened.

Friends, family members, work associates, even the baristas and gas pumpers of those 6 Yankee fans got happy, but the emotion sure didn’t spread to those poor Yankee fans.

The Red Sox triumph was an epiphenomenon, a big, contextual event that out-explains the explanation given by Christakis and Fowler.

Subtle epiphenomena from upticks in the economy to a cool new teacher at middle school, to the release of a Harry Potter movie provide a more plausible explanation for Christakis and Fowler’s observations, even though the particular epiphenomena at work are unknown and unknowable.

Look, when the Sox won game 4 to cut the series deficit to 1-3, a handful of Sox fans became happy. At least we weren’t swept, those few fans reasoned.

A day later the Sox won game 5 and more people became happy.

When the Sox won their third in a row to tie the series, pandemonium reigned and that was dwarfed by the transcendent moment at the end of game 7.

The epiphenomenon of the Sox’ comeback explains how, over time more Bostonians got happy. Christakis and Fowler want you to believe instead that happiness is contagious. That’s buzz-worthy and actually plausible at first blush, but it is simply wrong and 6 Yankee fans living in Beantown will attest to that.


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