Grapevine The Online Newsletter For Managers and HR Professionals
From Vinehouse And Nancy Slessenger
Can Happiness Really Be Catching? If So, How Do You Get It? I came across some research recently about the Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network. It was a longitudinal analysis over 20 years with 4739 participants (BMJ 2008;337:a2338). What was particularly interesting about it was that the research suggests that happiness is catching. The overall conclusion was that people’s happiness depends on how happy the people they are connected with are.
How Connected Do You Have to Be?
Another interesting finding was that you could have three degrees of separation from a happy person (your friend’s friend’s friend) and their happiness could still make you happier. I had hardly finished reading this article when I had a phone call from a friend of mine with really good news. He was very happy. By the end of the call I too felt extremely happy, even though the news itself has no material impact on me at all. (Well, except that he told me I’d been right all along about a particular issue. As many of you will know being told we are right makes many of us women happy.) The feeling of happiness lasted for ages and was very welcome.
There is other research that shows sharing a room with someone who is depressed increases your chances of being depressed yourself. This is no great surprise.
Some Interesting Findings
Happy people tend to be clustered together. By controlling other factors the researchers identified that this was not because people tend to naturally get together with like-minded people, but because a happy person tends to make others (and their friends) happy. The effect spreads. Happiness spreads like a virus across different social ties. The characteristics of your social network independently predict if you will be happy years into the future. Do You Feel Happy? Well, do you? Two things come out of this for me. * Does this mean we should deliberately choose happy people as our friends? * Should we shun people who aren’t happy?
I think we all know that being happy is good for us, good for our heath and also helps us to deal with difficult times more effectively. I remember a man being interviewed last year on the radio. He had suffered an awful accident in a railway and had had both legs amputated as a result. The interviewer asked him how he was coping. He said he’d already been back to his local pub and said to the landlord ‘I bet you didn’t expect to see me legless like this again so soon!’ And he laughed. The interviewer joined in after a shocked pause.
There are two sides to this. If we mix with unhappy people, we run the risk of becoming unhappy ourselves. On the other hand, if we are happy people, we could make the unhappy person happier and spread the virus.
At the moment it’s all too easy to mope around and spread more doom and gloom like the media and the press. What this does is actually make it more difficult for people to cope with the situations they are in. It literally affects their brains and makes it more difficult for them to see opportunities, plan, and take action.
How about deliberately going out and catching happiness? If happiness can be passed on like a virus, we could make use of that and, once we’ve caught it, make sure we pass it on.