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HAPPINESS

You know how a simple “thank you” can go a long way in making others feel good? Well, being happy can do the same thing, especially if you live nearby a felicitous fellow or a gladsome gal.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have published their sonsy study in the British Medical Journal, which in essence states that happiness spreads to others; similar to how an infectious disease spreads to those it comes in contact with.

Their 20+ year study concluded in 2003, analyzing a veritable bonanza of data from nearly 5,000 volunteers dating back to 1971. The information was so in-depth, the researchers knew the marital status of the volunteers, their birthdays, when people had children, when deaths occurred in families, as well as listings of contact information for the participants’ friends and co-workers (provided by the volunteers themselves). While the volunteers were the primary targets of study, the friends, co-workers and family members brought the pool of participants up to over 53,200 people!

With this information, researchers assessed the happiness levels of the participants as well as those of their friends, family and colleagues.

How was happiness assessed? By how they responded to specific “how-often-in-the-past-week” questions, such as “How often in the past week were you hopeful about the future? Felt happy? Enjoyed life?

These researchers have performed studies in the past that showed links between such things as obesity and smoking behavior, and this study showed the same thing – that people who were happy were likely to have others in their life who were also happy. And the likelihood of happiness depended a lot on the physical proximity of that happy friend. Some of their statistics help explain what I mean:

  • If a happy friend lived within a half-mile of the study’s chief participant, he or she was more likely to be happy by about 42 percent. But if that happy friend was two miles away, the likelihood of the participant’s general state of happiness dropped to 22 percent.
  • Happy family members (spouses) living under the same roof were more likely to make participants’ happy, by about 8 percent. Happy siblings living within a mile of the participant had a 14 percent effect on the likelihood of happiness.

Even next-door neighbors had an impact on happiness levels; participants were 34 percent more likely to be happy with joyful next-door neighbors.

This study goes to show that our actions don’t take place in a vacuum. Just as objects in motion tend to stay in motion, acting happy begets happiness in others.

Sometimes we may not feel happy. We let our emotions get the better of us. This is normal. But as a good friend of mine likes to say, we shouldn’t be victim to our emotions. There’s nothing wrong with feeling unhappy now and then, but we shouldn’t let that affect how we act. If we act happy, not only does that positively affect those around us, but it can help shake heavyheartedness out of ourselves so we can be glad-hearted.

Happiness is so important to our health and general enjoyment of life. And when it comes right down to it, that’s what this life is all about – the pursuit of happiness. And as it happens, its pursuit may begin and end with those we surround ourselves with (conversely, the study found the more unhappy friends a participant had, the greater the risk he, too, was unhappy – a 7 percent increased chance with each “sad sack”).

 

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