This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Happiness
60-Second Science

Happiness Is Contagious

A happy person within a social circle quickly influences those around him or her to be happy, extending to three degrees of separation. Adam Hinterthuer reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Want to live a happier life? Try surrounding yourself with happy friends or at least find friends with happy friends. A study published online December 4th in the British Medical Journal says happiness can quickly go viral within your social network.

Researchers looked at twenty years' worth of data on more than 5,000 individuals and found that when any one person was happy, their friends became more likely to share that joy. Benefits spread out to three degrees of separation, meaning a better chance at happiness for not only their friends' friends, but also their friends' friends' friends.

But don't go thinking your ten thousand buddies on Facebook will bring you happiness. The researchers found that the strength of the effect dissipates over physical distance, with next-door neighbors and friends living nearby getting the biggest boost. Surprisingly, sadness made very little headway within social networks, paling in comparison to the communal effects of happiness. Just in time for the holiday season, scientific proof that it's not the gift that counts—it’s the smile on the face of the friend giving it.

—Adam Hinterthuer 

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