Laughing Without Leaking: Where are You on the Happiness Scale?

Nancy Muller Health Pro
  • Recently in the news, a sophisticated study conducted jointly by the University of California San Diego and Harvard Medical School demonstrated happiness spreads far and wide through a social network, even to people up to three degrees removed. The researchers also found that happiness spreads more robustly than unhappiness and seems to have a more profound effect on people than money. The study is being published in the British Medical Journal. The research is a sequel to a similar study published in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting the social-network effects in obesity and smoking cessation.

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    Researchers James Fowler from UCSD and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard used data from the Framingham Heart Study to recreate a social network of nearly 5,000 people whose happiness was measured over two decades, 1983 - 2003, applying a validated depression scale against responses to four questions. The research found that happy people tend to cluster. While people with more social contacts also seem generally happier, what matters most is how many happy connections a person has.


    And happiness is indeed contagious. You are 15% more likely to be happy if you are directly connected to a happy person, 10% more if it's the friend of a friend who is happy, and 6% more if the friend of a friend of a friend is happy. Unhappiness spreads but not by the same degree. Where a person is in the cluster has a significant impact on his or her own happiness.


    The researchers also discovered that happiness fades with distance. So the old adage of absence (or distance) makes the heart grow fonder may be true, but in the process one is likely to grow sadder , not happier. In other words, "physical personal interaction is necessary, so the effect decays with distance, " explains Dr. Christakis.


    And what are we most likely to do if we are happy? We laugh, and we laugh with abandonment when we are with friends who are laughing.


    And if we have weakened pelvic floor muscles, what do we do when we laugh? We leak. And when we leak frequently and heavily, depression is likely to be associated with the embarrassing leakage, also known as symptoms of stress urinary incontinence (SUI).
    I would bet that Fowler and Christakis would bank on the power of friends - the happiness factor - to promote a sense of well-being and thus pursuit of options such as Kegels or even surgery to prevent an individual with leakage from slipping into depression from the isolation witnessed in cases of more severe symptoms of SUI.


    Where are you on the happiness curve? If you're leaking and laughing, there's an answer for you (and your friends) at


    Check it out and stay on the bright side of the moon, where you can laugh without leaking.

Published On: January 02, 2009