The Contagion of Happiness | HMS

In contrast to the ‘paint by numbers’ approach of Gretchen Rubin (here), a deeper look at happiness and the factors that make us more happy. Quote:

So what does bring us happiness? Research shows that our relationships with others, rather than what we see in the mirror or find in our wallets, may be what matter most. It’s a concept that held true for our cave–dwelling ancestors, who formed elaborate social structures to increase their odds of survival. These days, our connections are more about building a family, gossiping at the water cooler, and adding to our list of Facebook friends than outsmarting saber–toothed tigers. But results of the long–running Grant Study of Adult Development, which [George] Vaillant helps oversee, suggest that the emotional benefits of connectedness remain. Vaillant and his colleagues have found, for instance, that only the capacity for loving relationships predicted life satisfaction in older men.

In turn, being happy can have its own advantages. More than three decades ago, Grant Study data showed that good mental health in men slowed the deterioration of their physical health, even after adjusting for genetics, obesity, and tobacco and alcohol use. Although Vaillant has since found that after age 50 vascular risk factors such as smoking, elevated diastolic blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and alcohol abuse appear to play a far greater role than mental health in subsequent health and longevity, other research still supports a link to mental health. Research by Ichiro Kawachi, an HMS associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found a strong correlation between happiness and good health, both in individuals and within communities.

And there’s more good news: Happiness may be limitless. Just as someone’s bad mood can rub off on you, positivity, too, may spread, says Nicholas Christakis ’88, an HMS professor of medical sociology and of medicine who has researched the contagion of emotions within the larger context of social networks. His findings have shown that happiness may be a collective phenomenon: Having a happy friend who lives within a mile of you, for example, appears to increase the probability that you will be happy as well. In collaboration with James Fowler at the University of California at San Diego, Christakis found similar effects for the spread of happiness between next–door neighbors, siblings that live nearby, and spouses—so that good feelings continue to move from person to person, even when there’s no longer a direct connection to the original Pollyanna.

The Contagion of Happiness | HMS.


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