Monday, August 3, 2009

Smile, It's Good For Me

smile Pictures, Images and Photos

Linda and I have just finished a picnic of sorts on the grounds of the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus. It was part of a "get Barry out of the house and into nature" project. And it was working fine.

I looked across the manicured lawns dappled by the shade of oak, maple and pine trees and decided I couldn't resist going for a walk. So Linda took my arm and we set off for the tree line of the distant forest.

No longer hampered by vertigo, I am still very weak and our progress is slow.

"I feel like a sloth, " I told her. "A three toed sloth."

Linda gave me an appraising look. "Now that you mention it," she said. "I can certainly see the resemblance."

And she smiled. And my heart grew three sizes that day.

They say misery loves company, but the same may be even more true of happiness.

In a study published by the British Medical Journal, scientists from Harvard University and UC San Diego showed that happiness spreads readily through social networks of family members, friends and neighbors.

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.

"Your emotional state depends not just on actions and choices that you make, but also on actions and choices of other people, many of which you don't even know," said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and medical sociologist at Harvard who co-wrote the study.

The research is part of a growing trend to measure well-being as a crucial component of public health. Scientists have documented that people who describe themselves as happy are likely to live longer, even if they have a chronic illness.

A happy friend who lives within a half-mile makes you 42% more likely to be happy yourself. If that same friend lives two miles away, his impact drops to 22%. Happy friends who are more distant have no discernible impact, according to the study.

Similarly, happy siblings make you 14% more likely to be happy yourself, but only if they live within one mile. Happy spouses provide an 8% boost -- if they live under the same roof. Next-door neighbors who are happy make you 34% more likely to be happy too, but no other neighbors have an effect, even if they live on the same block.

"We suspect emotions spread through frequency of contact," Fowler said. As a result, he said, people who live too far away to be seen on a regular basis don't have much effect.

The one exception was co-workers, perhaps because something in the work environment prevented their happiness from spreading, the study found.

I wonder what percent my happiness has increased being surrounded by happy bloggers?


Much of the information for this post came from a Los Angeles Times Article by Karen Kaplan December 5, 2008.