Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happiness Is An Emergent Property Of Social Networks

The dear Andy Piper was kind enough today to let me know Stowe Boyd posted something on happiness on his blog :-). Stowe was twigged by the NY Times to some research on happiness and the results are pretty cool.

So I couldn't miss the opportunity to present you some pieces of it: SOCIAL NETWORKS AND HAPPINESS By By Nicholas A. Christakis & James Fowler

We studied 4,739 people followed from 1983 to 2003 as part of the famous Framingham Heart Study. These individuals were embedded in a larger network of 12,067 people; they had an average of 11 connections to others in the social network (including to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors); and their happiness was assessed every few years using a standard measure.

We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person's happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. We found that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and to be located in large clusters of other happy people. And we found that each additional happy friend increases a person's probability of being happy by about 9%. For comparison, having an extra $5,000 in income (in 1984 dollars) increased the probability of being happy by about 2%.

Happiness, in short, is not merely a function of personal experience, but also is a property of groups. Emotions are a collective phenomenon.

The authors did some research on Facebook that showed that smiling faces in Facebook are closely connected to others with smiling faces, and so on. The people central to the network -- they studied 1700 college students -- smiled much more in their photos than people at the periphery. Their conclusion?

Moreover, people who do not smile seem to be located more peripherally in the network. In fact, statistical analysis of the network shows that people who smile tend to have more friends (smiling gets you an average of one extra friend, which is pretty good considering that people only have about six close friends). Not only that, but the statistical analyses confirm that those who smile are measurably more central to the network compared to those who do not smile. That is, if you smile, you are less likely to be on the periphery of the online world.

It thus seems to be the case, online as well as offline, that when you smile, the world smiles with you.

Now I really must agree with Stowe that people wanting to be more central to social networks might moderate their behavior to at least appear to be happy even when they may not be. But that's not bad (except if we know they do and are reluctant to believing them): if we think that they are happy our feelings may change also :-)

And one more thing. I started to give daily tips on #happymaking. Follow my twitter :-)

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