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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 16:34 EDT

The Spread of Happiness

December 25, 2008

If you have a smile on your face this holiday season, you may take the time to thank your friends. But new research shows if you want to give thanks for your happiness you need to look beyond your own friends to their friends and to their friend’s friends.

In a study done by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego, it was found that when an individual becomes happy the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. In other words, one person’s happiness is capable of triggering a chain reaction that extends beyond single person-to-person relationships. These effects can last up to a year.

On the flip side, sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness. On average, every happy friend increases your own chance of being happy by nine percent. Each unhappy friend decreases it by seven percent.

“One of the key determinants of human happiness is the happiness of others,” Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School was quoted as saying. “An innovative feature of our work was exploring the idea that emotions are a collective phenomenon and not just as individual one.”

Researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study to recreate a social network of close to 5,000 people whose happiness was measured for 20 years. Christakis and fellow study author James Fowler of UCSD observed social and family ties and analyzed the spread of happiness through this group.

Fowler noted the practical implications of this study may lie in the importance of taking responsibility for your own happiness because it seems to impact dozens of others. “The pursuit of happiness is not a solitary gold. We are all connected, and so is our joy,” Fowler was quoted as saying.

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