Did you know that your friends’ friends’ friends can effect your happiness? So says researchers looking at the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study started in 1948. The previous link is to a research publication on the topic. If you are happy, you likely increase the happiness of those in your social network–even if they do not have direct contact with you. You make your friends happy who in turn make their friends happier…if they live in closer proximity to each other.
Of course this study begs some questions. Does unhappiness make others more unhappy or do unhappy people merely lose their friends? The study looks at positive emotions. What are the differences between positive emotions and happiness? Would the same effect exist if studying contentment? peace? Or, are we really studying the ability of folks to buck up in social networks? Those that do not are on the periphery and therefore more unhappy. Finally, Framingham is a relatively affluent small city. Would the same effect exist in N. Philly?
But, it does raise some good challenges for us. In the midst of suffering (and there seems to be more and more of it in my social spheres!) are there ways that we need to be working to raise our positive affect? Intentionally seeking to think and talk about the good and not just the bad? Have a friend with cancer? How do you make sure to include conversations about beauty, joy, pleasure? Is your church in a funk? Are you stressed at work or school? Listen to your conversations with others. Do they dwell on the negative? Are their positives that you are neglecting to discuss and notice?
Surely you should not be a “pollyanna.” This is not an invitation to denial nor a rebuke of those who find themselves groaning under a burden. But, try laughing a little more heartily. It might cheer your friends up.