“Come On, Get Happy!” Do you remember this 1970 theme song from the Partridge Family? I guarantee it will put a smile on your face if you spend 30 seconds on YouTube to hear it again. I dare you not to sing along. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40egogo4kcY
It’s what came into my mind as I read recent results of a 20-year study on how our social network impacts our happiness. One highlight is that happy people tend to be connected to other happy people, and geographical closeness is important.
It reports that we are affected by the happiness of others in our network, up to three degrees of separation. So, if our friend’s friend “gets happy” then we are more likely to be as well. Interestingly, the number of happy friends you have affects you more than the number of unhappy friends, so don’t feel like you have to dump all your sad friends to stay happy. Each new happy friend you have increases your likelihood of happiness, but a new unhappy friend has little or no effect.
What I found most interesting is the groups of people who affect us most. When our spouse becomes happier, it increases our odds of becoming happier by only 8%. When our next door neighbor becomes increasingly happy, it increases our odds by 35%. A mutual friend trumps them all when she becomes happier, increasing the probability you’ll be happy by a whopping 63%. Happiness also seems to spread more readily via the same gender. How happy our coworkers are doesn’t seem to affect us one way or another.
Even though many people spend more time at work with than family, I don’t think they are as invested in those relationships in the way we are with friends. Of course, some people don’t even like their coworkers or are competitive with them, so we may not be pleased when they succeed. As for the neighbors and friends part, why do you think they affect us more than spouses? I believe we put on a happy face for many of those around us, sharing good news and wishing others well. But when we come home, we don’t always save the best, most joyous part of ourselves for those in our own home. We’re tired. We’ve had a long day. We have a to-do list on which to focus. Our spouses may be used to our ups and downs and may not pay a lot of attention to our feelings or reports of our day.
Perhaps it’s a good reminder for us to really be present for our spouses, family and friends, our neighbors, and yes, even our coworkers. We should share in their joys—and pick them up when they’re down. Sing them a happy tune from the ‘70s. You might make your friend’s friend happy tomorrow.
For study details go to http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec04_2/a2338.