Happiness has a rippling effect

Haven’t I always said it?  Happiness is contagious.  Just smiling at people in a room can pick up the mood of a room…and in the process help you keep your own mood up (because happiness is contagious whether you are giving or receiving).

Dr. Nicholas Christakis, professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler are co-authors of a 20-year study called Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network.  Here is the abstract of the study

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 probabilitythat a person is happy by 25% (95% confidence interval 1% to57%). 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 neighbours (34%, 7% to 70%). Effects are not seen between coworkers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.

In other words, it is in your own self-interest to make people around you happy.  Smiles, random acts of kindness, humor, music…adding all these uplifting features to your neighborhood will make your life better.  I wonder why the effect was not seen between coworkers; it really should have been, considering how close many people are to their coworkers, spending huge portions of their day with them and being incredibly affected by their moods.



  1. Interesting study. I make a mention of this in my website that an effective way to multiply happiness is to share it with others.


    Thanks for posting this study.


  2. I partially agree with your post on the ripple effect of happiness. However, while this maybe true aren’t their certain situations where your smile or kindness or a good natured act is not reciprocated?

  3. Before you make others happy, you need to make yourself happy first. At the beginning of the year I was overweight which made me terribly unhappy. I have managed to lose the weight and I am so much happier now. Even my friends say I ‘m a different person. Make yourself happy first then this happiness will naturally be passed onto others.

  4. @Kelly K … there are exceptions to every “rule”. Really, there are no rules, just observations and best practices. In this case, the exceptions are few and probably very specific to circumstances.

  5. @Keith… that is true. But happiness is affected by many things, and this is one of them. For instance, your success at losing wait would have been easier with happier people around, as they would have been more likely to offer support. And it would have been more difficult with less happy people around, as they would have been less inclined to offer support. When dealing with people, relationships and emotions, we can’t measure in black and white, but in every shade of the rainbow.

  6. You are right dear.. happiness, surely is contagious…. and as keith said.. be happy and make others happy 🙂

  7. This is very interesting research! I’m not sure how accurate it would be where I live in Upstate NY..Everytime I smile at someone I get a scowl or a confused look. People aren’t used to being smiled at around here apparently! lol

  8. In my book, “Your Unfinished Life”, I summarize two classic works on kindness written at the turn of the 20th century, that I found to be as relevant today as they were then. One of them, “Kindness” written by Frederick Faber in 1892, expressed an earlier sentiment of what has been demonstrated in Dr. Christakis’ and James Fowler’s study:

    “Kindness is the most gracious attitude one man can assume toward another. Kindness is infectious. No kind action ever stopped by itself. One kind action leads to another. By one, we commit ourselves to more than one. This is the greatest work kindness does to others – that it makes them kind themselves.

    Perhaps an act of kindness never dies, but extends to the invisible undulations of its influence over the breadth of centuries. Thus there is no better thing which we can do for others than to be kind to them…” Further excerpts from Faber’s book, and from a kindred work “On Kindness” by Jean Guibert (1911) are available on my book’s website http://www.YourUnfinishedLife.com and also on Amazon’s book page for “Your Unfisnished Life” through the “Search Inside The Book” function.

  9. The rippling effect must be due to the symbiosis 10,000 years ago as stated in the following:

    (1) VALID HAPPINESS (including love, sense of beauty, symbiosis (good conscience, upholding justice, moral couraging, helping others, teaching…) bravery, etc.) must be the feeling of things being a step better for our propagation.
    (2) WELL-BEING is the ongoing feeling of things going well step by step for our propagation.
    (3) VALID SUFFERING must be the feeling of things being harmful to our propagation and calling us to prevent or rectify it.
    (4) SOUL (including: personality, inspiration, etc.) is the computation results of both our instinct and pre-instinct data-programs in our brain.
    (5) LIFE GOAL is to propagate.

    All these are our instincts (ancestors’ successful experiences saved on DNA).


  10. Absolutely yes! Happiness soothe and heal our souls. Sure, it’s not an scapegoat to our daily struggles in life, but it helps us to move and face our tomorrow. People nowadays are conditioned to live a hardwork life and press to a more additional loads just to go against the global economic pressures. As if we don’t have to lose a second or time to pause, smile and crack a joke. What a miserable condition. Happiness is a powerful conditioning of life. Happy people show they are most likely brave enough to fight the life’s battle. They are courageous and fear no man. They are getting tougher when the going gets tough. This is the nature of life, to be happy and enjoy the perfect creations around us. My mentor once taught me to live and let live. Go and let God. We are conqueror and we are exceedingly higher above than angels, than happy flowers and singing birds in the sky. We are supposed to be the most happiest creation among all creations. Thanks to my mentor at kamja.

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