A couple of weekends ago, I watched a special on PBS called “This Emotional Life” and one of the pieces of research they featured was on social connections and happiness. The research was conducted by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard, who’s been researching social connections for decades. The findings floored me. If your friend becomes happy, it increases the probability that you will become happy by 15%. If your friend’s friend becomes happy, it increases the probability that you’ll become happy by 10%.

In fact, it takes up to 4 degrees of separation (in other words, your friend’s, friend’s, friend’s, friend) before that person’s emotional (happy) state of mind has nothing to do with your emotional (happy) state of mind. Think about that. People whom you don’t even know may affect how you feel, or vice versa, you may affect how people feel including those you don’t even know.

While their research did not directly address a work context, imagine the implications of their research on your organization. If you as a leader are happy, you may directly influence the happiness of those around you. And when people are happy, they will more than likely be more productive, easier to work with, and more amiable. We all know the influence leaders have on those around them, but to what extent? By stretching Dr. Christakis’s research into the workplace, a leader’s own emotional, happy state may influence the happiness of others, possibly creating a happier, more productive workplace climate. A simple act (like a compliment or special recognition) toward one of your coworkers could make them happy, which according to Christakis’s research on social connections, may in turn cause others well beyond you and your immediate social connections to become happy.

Is this idea too far-fetched or have you seen how happiness can be contagious within your organization?

– Bill Gentry

Photo credits: 1. “LOVE” in Thailand..HaPpy ValenTine’s Day…, 2. Shiny Happy People, 3. Happy Flyer, 4. DSC_4082, 5. zowie and me smiling, 6. 065/365: Show us your smile!, 7. A Friendly Smile, 8. children, 9. Eyes left? No it’s smile, 10. Bright eyes and a warm smile …, 11. Happy Fruit Grass, 12. young boys, 13. Laughing Child, 14. Silver smiles, 15. I didn’t know anyone could smile this big, 16. Smile!, 17. My favorite smile, 18. children, 19. Inocencia-Riendo en el Cementerio…, 20. Jayantii Laughing, 21. Smile!, 22. smiles, 23. “Smile, it’s the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart.”, 24.Smile 3, 25. A SMILE

6 thoughts on “Social Connections and the Power of Happiness

  1. Wow! This is fascinating. It makes sense that those close to us would effect our mood, but to think that 4 degrees of separation is needed before there’s no effect! I don’t think many people in Pittsburgh are separated by much more than 4 degrees, meaning our entire city’s mood could be a result of one another…

  2. Wow! This is fascinating. It makes sense that those close to us would effect our mood, but to think that 4 degrees of separation is needed before there’s no effect! I don’t think many people in Pittsburgh are separated by much more than 4 degrees, meaning our entire city’s mood could be a result of one another…

  3. geezz.. that was cool stuff. four degrees! I don’t know but sometimes even though i’m not related to that person, what happens to them affect me also.. nice stuff you got here..

  4. geezz.. that was cool stuff. four degrees! I don’t know but sometimes even though i’m not related to that person, what happens to them affect me also.. nice stuff you got here..

  5. The problem with worrying about how your mood affects others is that it takes away from focusing on goals. As a Boss it is my responsibility to keep employees busy… not happy. President Woodrow Wilson said, “I am not sure that it is of the first importance that you should be happy. Many an unhappy man has been of deep service to himself and to the world.” I’m not a cheerleader. Therefore 4 degrees or 1 degree makes no difference to me.

  6. The problem with worrying about how your mood affects others is that it takes away from focusing on goals. As a Boss it is my responsibility to keep employees busy… not happy. President Woodrow Wilson said, “I am not sure that it is of the first importance that you should be happy. Many an unhappy man has been of deep service to himself and to the world.” I’m not a cheerleader. Therefore 4 degrees or 1 degree makes no difference to me.

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