Sunday, December 07, 2008


This is a warning to all of you: either be happy or stay the heck away from me. A multi-million dollar, twenty-year study by some of the finest minds in the country has finally proven beyond doubt that happiness is catchy—but so, unfortunately, is unhappiness.

Earlier multi-million dollar, multi-year research by very smart people concluded that obesity and cigarette smoking are contagious, too. That is, if you hang around with chubby friends or family, you are more likely to become a chub scout yourself. Ditto for cigarette smoking. But now there’s a new twist on the value of hanging around with the right people—your happiness depends on it.

Researchers have found that happiness is contagious—it’s a collective phenomenon. To paraphrase the researchers’ results, we pick up our emotional state from people around us through mimicry and emotional contagion. We copy actions, facial expressions, and emotional states that we observe in others—whether we’re around them for a few seconds or for weeks or months. (Time is immaterial here. When we’re around unhappy people, it just seems longer.)

The study, done by American researchers (sociologists from Harvard, UC San Diego, etc.) called the Framington (Massachusetts) Heart Study, was conducted from 1983 to 2003. The study, like most academic studies, is full of big words like “ego” and “cohort” and “first order relatives” and “systematic social ties,” and “base mean index score.” But the bottom line of the study was that happy people tend to be connected to one another in big happy clusters. In the study, researchers found that clusters of happy people and clusters of unhappy people were too large, too defined, to be just chance occurrences.

So be wary of hanging around with Debbie Down-in-the-Dumps and Martin Miserable. They are not only affecting themselves; they are creating a ripple effect of unhappiness around them. Their entire cluster of social ties is being pulled down into their sucking, swirling vortex of wretchedness. Thanks a lot, my downer friend.

On the other hand, the researchers are even tentatively saying that happy people create their own karma (therefore making the TV show My Name is Earl accurate and prophetic). Because happiness spreads from person to person, the happiness we create around us ripples to others, and ripples and ripples and ripples, until eventually it comes to ripple back over us. Now isn’t that a good reason to make an effort to smile?


j9 said...

I am such a firm believer in this and I didn't even have to read a study! You are the company that you keep...however it's a bummer when your co-workers need an attitude adjustment and you have to hang around them more than the people that you actually like! :)

Anonymous said...

Hooray for chub scouts! Way to go, fat America!!

Anonymous said...

There's an old saying "Those who spread sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".