Photo: Aka Hige
Decide to be with happy people
Some people are good for you, some people aren’t
Recent public health research suggests if you really want to change the world, focus on your personal vitality and live it fully.
According to social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who this month released their book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, you’d be contributing healthy years to the lives of people you love, as well as total strangers who happen to know people who know people you know.
Christakis and Fowler analyzed information collected during the 60 year long Framingham Heart Study. Their findings support the theory that habits, ideas, and feelings are infectious, and that behaviors, for example, “quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses.”
This is tantalizing research for any of us who’ve been in toxic situations
or found ourselves tangled up with people who seemed to drain us of life. In fact, Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard, began this research when he was treating an elderly patient who had dementia and was terminally ill. The patient lived with her daughter’s family and her daughter was her primary caregiver.
“The daughter was exhausted from caring for her mother for months; the daughter’s husband, in turn, was becoming ill from coping with his wife’s extreme stress. One night after visiting the dying mother, Christakis arrived back at his office and got a phone call from a friend of the husband, asking for help, explaining that he, too, was feeling overwhelmed by the situation.
The mother’s sickness had, in effect, spread outward “across three degrees of separation.”
That three degrees exposes each of us to more than a thousand people, and connects more than a thousand people to each of us.
While it’s true we can we make each other sick, there’s also good news: as simply as smiling, we can make each other well, too.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this report was the contagion of happiness. Life-force boosting happiness isn’t about having it all or having it easy, but constantly being open to, accepting, and passing on lots of little happinesses – something a yogi should be all about.
Clive Thompson, reporting for the New York Times writes, “Christakis and Fowler found
the happiest people in Framingham were those who had the most connections, even if the relationships weren’t necessarily deep ones
The reason these people were the happiest, the duo theorize, is that happiness doesn’t come only from having deep, heart-to-heart talks. It also comes from having daily exposure to many small moments of contagious happiness. When you frequently see other people smile — at home, in the street, at your local bar — your spirits are repeatedly affected by your mirroring of their emotional state.”
Christakis and Fowler looked at smoking, drinking, obesity, loneliness, and happiness – “in each case one’s individual influence stretched out three degrees before it faded out. They termed this the “three degrees of influence” rule about human behavior: We are tied not just to those around us, but to others in a web that stretches farther than we know.”
Our interconnectivity was borne out in the Framingham data even in “skipped links,” where the person in the middle was unaffected. “A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese — even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.”
What clearer motivation could we have
to be more consistent with practice than this: the longest running research study in America demonstrates that for each and every one of us, our energy, attitude and habits can positively influence the health and vitality of a thousand other people.
Fowler told the New York Times journalist his work with Christakis “had inspired him to lose five pounds and to listen to upbeat music before he arrives home from work so he will be in a good mood when he greets his family. “I try to get myself in a mental space where I’ll be happy,” he says. “Because I know that I’m not just having an impact on my son, I’m potentially having an impact on my son’s best friend’s mother.”
The wisdom of practice? “In some sense we can begin to understand human emotions like happiness the way we might study the stampeding of buffalo,” Christakis said. “You don’t ask an individual buffalo, ‘Why are you running to the left?’ The answer is that the whole herd is running to the left. Similarly, you can see pockets of unhappy and happy people clustered in the network. They don’t even know each other necessarily,” but their moods rise and fall together.”
Cited and Quoted
Are Your Friends Making You Fat? – NYTimes.com
Framingham Heart Study
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.