How Happiness Spreads

Dr. Ballas Health Guide
  • It's 2009 and most American families are facing many problems they didn't face in 2008.  A crumbling economy, high unemployment rates, and home values dropping can all make it tough to get into the spirit of the season.  Most of these problems are self-explanatory, but those who are living with bipolar disorder have challenges most people don't understand and can't appreciate well.  Well, I wanted to write to write a reminder that it's important to stay optimistic and surround yourself with as many positive people as you can.  Research has shown for years that there is a significant benefit to having a positive outlook and having goals to look forward to accomplishing.  People with bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for depression, and a common trait many people with depression share is a distorted, negative view of the world.  Research has been growing over the last decade showing that people who describe themselves as happy tend to live longer. 

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                New research has shown that happiness is almost like a virus of the mind, and can spread among family, friends, and neighbors.  The results come from the Framingham Heart Study, named after the down Framingham, Massachusetts. This project began in 1948 and has continued ever since.  The study that was recently published in the British Medical Journal complied data on measures of happiness from 4739 participants.  Their connections to other people from 1983 to 2003 were evaluated.  The study showed that participants who were happy or became happy increased the chances that people they knew would also be happy. 


                It's a challenge trying to measure happiness in research.  In this study, happiness was defined by the participants responses' to statements like "I enjoyed life", "I was happy", "I felt hopeful about the future", and "I felt that I was just as good as other people".  Based on this definition, the researchers found that having a happy friend who lives close by could increase someone's happiness by over 40%, and the effect can last for a year. Fortunately, the study also showed that the effect of knowing unhappy people was much weaker, and unhappiness didn't spread as easily. 


                This is one of the most interesting articles I've read in a long time, and I read a lot of articles.  The entire Framingham Heart Study is a testament to what good science can accomplish, and this new research on happiness is quite unique. I hope in these hard times we don't forget that good relationships with others can really help us get through.  I'm interested in your stories about how personal relationships have helped you manage your illness, particularly during rough times. 

Published On: February 18, 2009