The Surprising Science of Spreading Happiness

The Surprising Science of Spreading Happiness3 min read

By Jon Beaty

September 25, 2015

happiness, friends, love, kindness, generosity, prayer, gratitude

Happiness is contagious.

If you’re not happy, take a look at who you spend time with. If you’re not surrounded by happy people, you may need a change.

The good news is you have a choice. You can change your attitude, change who you spend time with, or how much time you spend with unhappy people.

If you change your attitude, you can change your emotions and those of the people you hang out with.

Radiating Happiness

Researchers reviewed 20 years of scientific data. They discovered that the positive emotions of happiness produce an aura that can spread joy up to a mile from where a happy person lives.

The study showed that happiness seems to spread the most between friends, neighbors, and people of the same gender. It also spreads between spouses and siblings who live near each other. There is one exception. In this study, happiness doesn’t appear to spread at work.

But the strongest effect was between friends. Happy people with a friend living no more than 1 mile away, were 25% more likely to have a happy friend.

The researchers found that the rays of one person’s happiness reach as far as the friends of their friends’ friends. That would be called 3 degrees of separation.

These results of these happiness clusters aren’t only attributed to happy people attracting happy people. The researchers were clear in their conclusions that the clusters of happiness were also the result of happiness spreading.

Happiness Networks

We can call a friend cluster a network.

This study revealed that the more happy friends a person has in their network of friends, the more likely they will be happy in the future. The happiest people were at the center of a network of happy people.

In separate studies, happiness networks were also found on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. These studies had similar findings to the other study on the spread of happiness.

Facebook has gotten a bad rap for making people unhappy. But the negative findings seem to be tied to excessive time on Facebook by already-lonely people.

On the positive side, researchers have found something remarkable.

Posting happy comments on Facebook had a positive attitude-effect on the Facebook friends of the person who published the posts. Friends who saw those comments often reacted by expressing positive emotion in their own comments. Here too–just as in the other study–the impact of the original happy comments reached 3 degrees of separation. Negative comments had less influence and a shorter reach.

How to Spread Happiness

Jesus made it part of His ministry to spread happiness. When Jesus knew His death was near, He spoke encouraging words to His closest friends. He knew these words would help them bounce back from the awful grief they’d feel after His crucifixion.

Jesus spoke of God’s love for His friends, and asked them to love each other the way they had been loved. Then Jesus said:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Spreading happiness starts by filling yourself with joy, then sharing your joy with people in your circle of influence. The effect may spread to the friends of your friends’ friends, or the friends of your spouse or siblings.

Here are 7 actions you can take to spread joy to the people around you:

  1. Share Smiles (Proverbs 15:13)
  2. Give Thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  3. Speak Positively (Proverbs 12:25)
  4. Offer Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  5. Be Kind (Ephesians 4:32)
  6. Love Generously (John 15:13)
  7. Pray Often (1 Timothy 2:1)

Which of these do you want to do more of to spread happiness? Let me know with a comment below.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Fowler, NA and Christakis, JH. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart StudyBMJ 2008;337:a2338.

Coviello, L et al. Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. Published: March 12, 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090315.

About the author

I help Christian leaders apply the ways and words of Jesus to:
- Overcome limiting beliefs, habits, and traits.
- Build stronger connections with the people they live and work with.
- Clarify and achieve their personal goals and life mission.

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