The path to happiness appears to be lined with smiling friends, family and neighbors. So suggests a Harvard analysis of roughly 5,000 people over two decades, which found that contentment is contagious.
The study landed lead researcher Dr. Nicholas Christakis on TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential” list. By mapping and measuring happiness within a social network, Christakis found that an upbeat sibling can increase your happiness by 14%, a nearby cheerful friend by 25%, and a contented next-door neighbor by 34%. You even receive a joy boost of nearly 10% simply by having a happy “friend of a friend.”
The takeaway? Stick with the smilers. We’re not suggesting abandoning those who are feeling down, but to widen your social circle to include merry friends and neighbors, who in turn will feed your ability to uplift others. Staying healthy will help keep you happy, according to research which found that fitness predicts happiness better than finances. Lifting weights can help lift your mood, while vigorous exercise can boost brain chemicals that provide a natural high. Emotional wellbeing is also linked to proper nutrition — including getting enough folate (beans, spinach, asparagus) and vitamin D (canned salmon, sunshine).
Flip side: The same Harvard researchers found that obesity spreads through social networks, making you 57% more likely to become obese if your friend is.
Published June 1, 2009