Every time you get a cold or stomach flu, you probably look around to see which friend, coworker, or family member you can blame. Well, now take a look around and see whom you should thank for your happiness. Turns out, happiness may be infectious, a contagion (if you will) that you can spread or receive just by being in close proximity to other people, according to a study published in this week's British Medical Journal.
Of course, that invites the question: How can you get yourself infected? The researchers say surrounding yourself with happy friends, relatives, and neighbors is a start. The study even found that having friends of friends who were happy increases your chances of being similarly cheerful.
While joy may indeed be contagious, I do wonder—as do critics of the studywhether upbeat folks tend to gravitate toward like-minded buddies and whether they also share the same peppy genes with family members. This would explain why happiness tends to cluster in certain social circles.
Still, I'm happy (no pun intended) to take the researchers' advice and make every effort to connect with positive people. Unfortunately, my job and parenting responsibilities leave me little time for evening phone chats or morning coffee with friends. Thus, I often feel, well, out of touch.
But it just so happens that I joined the social networking site Facebook last week, mainly because many of my journalist colleagues were already on it. I didn't quite know what it was about, but I've certainly enjoyed the hourly updates on what my friends are making for dinner or watching on TV. While the researchers found that having a happy friend or family member living within a mile of me increases my chances of being happy by 25 percent, I wonder if having happy friends and relatives a keystroke away also gives me a boost?
My biggest burst of Facebook happiness came from the surprise E-mails from high school friends whom I haven't spoken to in 20 years. What a pleasure to see their spouses and babies and learn what career paths they'd chosen. One of my old friends wrote me that she was "happy just to see my face." While nostalgia has contributed to my mood boost, I also believe that having this electronic network of happy friends plays a role. (Research hasn't yet confirmed this, and the current study looked at people from 1971 to 2003, before social networking sites took off.) So, what's my personal proof? After looking at a friend's posted photos of all the happy faces at the 20th high school reunion that I recently missed, I went to bed feeling downright euphoric.
Here are other ways to boost your happiness—and extend your life.