There have been countless quotes, studies, books and discussions on achieving personal happiness. Many refer to it either as something elusive which finds you when you’re not looking for it, or as something inside of you that you consciously decide to activate – an appreciation of your life that becomes part of your daily living. However, we should not discount our environment as an important component in our happiness levels. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist and doctor at Harvard, and James Fowler, a political scientist and professor at UC San Diego, have attempted to prove this through a twenty-year longitudinal study of over 4,000 individuals. The results of the study demonstrated that happiness appears to be contagious. Dr. Christakis refers to the spread of happiness as a “ripple effect” that extends outward to as far as three degrees of separation.
Collective Network Phenomenon
Dr. Nicholas Christakis refers to happiness as a “collective network phenomenon,” asserting that being part of a social network gives you a greater chance of happiness. This collective network gives people a sense of connection and belonging and acts as a platform from which all emotions can be transferred to others within the network; and although this also includes the potential for spreading misery among others, studies have found that happiness seems to spread more consistently than unhappiness. The fact is, the more people in a network you have access to, the more potential for acquiring a positive “recharge” whenever you need it. In similar fashion, James Fowler states, “Every friend increases the probability that you’re at the center of a network, which means you are more eligible to get a wave of happiness.”
Dr. Christakis also states that the potential for other people in your social network to affect your mood in positive ways diminishes over time and geographic distance. The closer you are physically to your network, the better the signal, with phone and computer communication diluting the strength of the “energy wave” of emotion. Those who are closer to the center of their social network tend to be happier than those further outside the circle. This social network is diverse, made up of friends, family, spouses, roommates, and neighbors. Through up to three degrees of separation, Dr. Christakis found evidence of happiness spreading as far as to your friends’ friends’ friends, essentially passing happiness to strangers. That’s impressive!
In a separate study, researchers found that one person’s mood could have an immediate impact on another’s, especially through imitating the other person’s facial expressions and body mannerisms. In such circumstances, someone could catch a mood in as little as a few seconds.
In a world essentially made up of energy, it comes as no surprise that emotions can spread like a virus. There is supporting evidence that increased happiness has a positive impact on overall health – on a basic level, the happier the individual, the less stress hormones they will produce, which directly affects the immune system. The chemicals your body releases when you are happy aid you in living longer and offer you a better chance of fighting disease and other health problems. Being a part of a social network gives you access to emotional support and a reservoir of positive energy, and the more conscious you are of this process and its impact on you, the more control you can wield over your environment, your feelings and your health. There’s no time like the present to immerse yourself in your own “crowd” and inhale the happiness!