Friendship and cognitive health part 2: Happiness is contagious among friends

Friendship and cognitive health part 2: Happiness is contagious among friends

Happiness truly is contagious, according to new research on the effects of emotions among social networks. Unhappiness is also somewhat contagious, meaning that an individual’s positive and negative emotions can directly affect the people around him or her (A Study to Smile About: Happiness Is Contagious). National Friendship Day brings the opportunity to examine the benefits of friendships and other social relationships.

This 2008 study examining the effects that happiness and other emotions have within social groups was conducted by researchers at Harvard University and University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The research found that an individual’s personal happiness makes a friend living nearby 25 percent more likely to exhibit signs of happiness. The closer the proximity, the higher the likelihood, as researchers found that individuals have a 34 percent higher chance of happiness when their next-door neighbors are happy. Findings suggest that this extends up to three degrees from the original individual exhibiting happiness, affecting friends of friends. Researchers also measured the effects of different emotions in the workplace and found that happiness is not contagious in this setting. They partially attribute this to the different dynamics of workplace relationships.

Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, author of the study, explains, “Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.” Further, James Fowler, political science professor at UCSD, notes that people with more social connections have higher rates of happiness. Fowler explains, “We find that people at the center of the social network tend to be happier… [because] those in the center are more susceptible to the waves of happiness that spread throughout the network.”

This contagious nature also applies to unhappiness, as the study found that individuals have a 7 percent higher likelihood of reporting unhappiness when their friends expressed similar emotions (Stein, 2008). However, the validity of these concepts is debated within the scientific community. Ethan Cohen-Cole of Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who co-authored a study accompanying that of Christakis, explains, “Researchers should be cautious in attributing correlations in health outcomes of close friends in social network effects. The methods of detecting ‘social network effects’ of health outcomes commonly found in the recent medical literature might produce effects where none exists.” There are many different variables relating to emotions and interpersonal relationships, the effects of which undergo ongoing research.

Though happiness is preferable to negative emotions, it is not always possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with clinical depression, help is available. The California Mental Health Helpline specializes connecting individuals with treatment programs for mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 855-559-3923 to get started today.