Is happiness contagious?

I was reading some research last week which suggests that emotional states can be transferred directly from one individual to another by “emotional contagion”. People can “catch” emotional states they observe in others. This emotional contagion also works positively.

So are there ways we could “spread” happiness?

This is the question posed by Dr Muiris Houston in a recent Irish Times Health article.

Researchers from Harvard University set out to evaluate whether happiness can spread from person to person and whether niches of happiness form within social networks. They were especially interested in whether happiness spreads not just in direct relationships (such as between friends) but also indirect relationships (such as between friends of friends).

Their results show that a ‘happy’ friend living within a mile of another increases the probability of that person being happy by 25 per cent. (Interestingly the relationship between people’s happiness extends to up to three degrees of separation).

How can this be? Happy people might share their good fortune – for example, by being helpful to others. They might become nicer or less hostile. Or they might exude an emotion that is genuinely contagious. At a physiological level, happiness has been associated with lower cortisol (stress hormone) output, reduced inflammatory responses and healthy patterns of heart-rate variability.

Investing in social capital – the ties that bind families, communities and other social groups – is linked to greater wellbeing. It certainly contributes to good health and longevity.

So what are you waiting for? Spread a little happiness today!

Source: Adapted from Irish Times 23/11/10