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Home » News

You don’t know me, but I can make your day

Submitted by on Friday, 5 December 2008 No Comment
Smile and the world smiles with you.

OK, in my case, smile and everyone wonders what I'm up to. Or whether I added some other product of Colombia besides coffee beans to my morning brew.

Personal animus aside, though, it turns out there might be some truth to that old saying. Or so say researchers who have studied the social habits of 4,739 Massachusetts residents for 20 years.

Twenty years? I'd definitely skew their data toward surly if I had to spend two decades completing questionnaires about how I'm feeling.

“If your friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy," study co-author James H. Fowler told The New York TImes, "that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket.”

I wouldn't go that far. Five thousand smackers would buy the guys a mountain of Mamba Fruit Chews, which would make them quite happy. At least until they started doing Matrix moves off the ceiling fan and wound up in timeout.

But maybe the study has a point. I haven't studied 4,739 people and their 50,000 social ties, but I do know that as I go in the morning, so go the guys.

Problem is, I'm what's charitably known as a slow-starter. Particularly when my first waking moment involves 30 pounds landing on my chest before daylight, pointing a finger at my nose and demanding, "I want bwekfas now."

No matter how many times I've patiently explained that waking Mommy up by shouting in her face is likely to turn her into the type of person who melts when water is applied, we repeat the drill daily.

Can you imagine the happy buzz we could create if we could turn things around? If, instead of yanking off my snuggly electric blanket -- because he's figured out that's the only way to get me moving -- Boots would greet me with "Good morning, my beautiful mother. Can I get your coffee?"

Next, mirthful Mom and blissful Boots could venture to Big Guy's bedside, something that normally takes the same nerve required to stick your head in a lion's mouth.

"Greet this glorious day, oh wonderful son and brother! May we bring you chocolate milk?"

And so on and so forth, out our door, down the streets, through out our town and across the country. We could be little laughter lightning rods, spreading joy one person at a time.

According to the study, that's the way it works. A next-door neighbor’s joy increases your chance of being happy 34 percent, but a neighbor down the block had no effect. “You have to see them and be in physical and temporal proximity,” said Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the other co-author.

They're not sure whether the bump occurs in online socializing, but they suspect it might. In a separate study of 1,700 Facebook profiles, they found that people smiling in their photographs had more Facebook friends and that more of those friends were smiling. “That shows that some of our findings are generalizable to the online world,” Christakis said.

The pattern does not hold at the office, though. The authors speculate that that atmosphere is too competitive for happy to spread easily.

Socially, there's also a slight chain reaction. According to the Los Angeles Times, knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3% more likely to be happy yourself, the study found. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8%, and even your neighbor's sister's friend can give you a 5.6% boost.

You better have that coffee in hand in the morning, Boots. There's more than my mood at stake.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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