Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study

British Medical Journal, Vol. 3, January 2009

31 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2008

See all articles by James H. Fowler

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine

Nicholas A. Christakis

Harvard University - Department of Health Care Policy

Date Written: December 7, 2008

Abstract

Objectives To evaluate whether happiness can spread from person to person and whether niches of happiness form within social networks.

Design Longitudinal social network analysis.

Setting Framingham Heart Study social network.

Participants 4739 individuals followed from 1983 to 2003.

Main outcome measures Happiness measured with validated four item scale; broad array of attributes of social networks and diverse social ties.

Results Clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in the network, and the relationship between people's happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one's friends' friends). People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future. Longitudinal statistical models suggest that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals. A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that a person is happy by 25% (95% confidence interval 1% to 57%). Similar effects are seen in coresident spouses (8%, 0.2% to 16%), siblings who live within a mile (14%, 1% to 28%), and next door neighbors (34%, 7% to 70%). Effects are not seen between coworkers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.

Conclusions People's happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

Fowler, James H. and Christakis, Nicholas A., Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study (December 7, 2008). British Medical Journal, Vol. 3, January 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1312605

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

Nicholas A. Christakis

Harvard University - Department of Health Care Policy ( email )

25 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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