Is happiness contagious?

null Linda Lucas has reason to smile. As a breast cancer survivor, she counts her blessings.

"I feel very fortunate that I am still able to enjoy life and still able to do things like this exercise class," said Lucas.

She's happiest when she's in her element, at the gym working out.

Linda credits her positive outlook to helping her beat cancer. New research shows happiness can literally be contagious.

Harvard researchers say the emotional state of happiness can travel up to three degrees of separation away from an individual.

Here's how it works -- if you are happy, your next-door neighbor has a 34-percent increased chance of becoming happy. A sibling living within a mile, 14-percent increase. A co-resident or spouse, 8-percent. A friend living within a mile has a 25-percent chance of becoming happy. Even an indirect friend-of-a-friend sees a 10-percent increase, and a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend is impacted by 5.6-percent.

An example of this effect can be seen on the social networking site Facebook. People who are smiling in their profile pictures tend to cluster together, forming a cyber-circle of happy looking people.

"All of the sudden you start to enjoy everything at a much higher level," said Lucas.

That zest for life has already proven beneficial.

"I mean just the simplest things, you are just very happy to be around for," said Lucas.

Skeptics have attributed these findings to a copy cat effect saying that happy people are simply exposed to similar lifestyles or social factors, but the study authors argue if this were the case, happiness would spread more uniformly. Instead it varies depending on the relationship between two people.

Web Extra Information: The Happiness Effect

THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS:

Much like you can spread a cold or the flu by being in near proximity to the sick individual, you can spread feelings of sadness, happiness and anger. Studies show that happiness is contagious. So if you put on that happy face, others around you will as well. A paper published in the British Medical Journal referenced a study on the contagiousness of happiness, stating that, "If a subject's friend was happy, that subject was 15 percent more likely to be happy too; if a friend's friend was happy, the original subject was 10 percent more likely to be so." Happiness is an infectious emotion that can trigger a chain reaction that spreads beyond single person-to-person relations.

Nicolas Christakis of Harvard Medical School says "One of the key determinants of human happiness is the happiness of others." Happiness is a collective phenomenon because we are social beings who like to share. Our state of well-being is influenced by our surroundings and the mood of those surrounding us. Christakis noticed the smile spreading on Facebook.com, a networking website. He noted that people who smile in their Facebook pages all tend to cluster together. It could be the copycat effect, but nonetheless, people are smiling. Just like happiness spreads among interacting people, habits such as smoking do as well. With such knowledge, we can start by spreading happiness one smile at a time.

FINDING JOY:

We all have different things that are capable of making us feel happy. What is important is our feelings of happiness can spread to surrounding friends, family members and co-workers. In order to find happiness, clinical psychologist Ellen Kenner, Ph.D., recommends finding rational values and goals. Rational goals can include romance, an enjoyable career and strong relationships with family and friends. Perhaps the most crucial part to finding happiness is being satisfied with the person you are. By building good character and surrounding yourself with people you love, you can endow yourself with self-esteem, which is fundamental to joy. Happiness can keep you healthy and living longer because of the positive emotions and elimination of stress, which can cause pain and chronic illness. Instead of spreading sickness, spread joy and start a chain of happiness.


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