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Being Happy Affects Even Those You Don't Know
Date:12/4/2008

Innovative research tracking people over a 20-year period suggests your smile goes farther than you think

THURSDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Happy friends can make you happy -- and so can happy friends of your friends.

That's the unusual conclusion of a new study that suggests you and people you've never met can have an impact on each other's feelings.

"Our own personal happiness spreads beyond people we're directly connected to," said study co-author James Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers already know that a person's attitudes affect those of other people, Fowler said. "If I smile, it increases the chances that you'll smile. We know that waiters and waitresses who smile get better tips," he added.

But what about other people further down the line? As Fowler put it, "Is there a person-to-person effect that can spread to the whole social network?"

The new study, one in a series examining the potential contagiousness of things like loneliness and smoking, aimed to answer that question.

Fowler and Harvard Medical School professor Nicholas Christakis looked at findings from the Framingham Heart Study, which began following 5,209 people in Framingham, Mass., in 1948. The study continues to this day and now includes descendents of those in the original group.

The researchers focused on 4,739 children of the original participants and tracked their friendship ties with other people for 20 years, from 1983 to 2003.

The scientists found that a person's happiness is most likely to boost the happiness levels in people closest to him -- spouses, relatives, neighbors, and friends.

But, if one person is happy, that increases the chances of happiness in a friend living within a mile by 25 percent. The "cascade" effect, as the researchers put it, continues: a friend of the friend has almost a 1
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