Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study

Just what we need!

30 October 2009

In the words of Buddhist philosopher, Dr Daisaku Ikeda,'Happiness does not exist as an isolated quality, nor does it conform to a single fixed pattern.'

I applaud the authors for taking the brave pill and challenging current scientific parochalism. Despite the study's complexity and shortcomings (which research doesn't?), it sheds important light on human behaviour. I have observed the 'responses' to this paper, both in print and in daily life, and they range from 'should we only associate with happy people', 'should we ditch our moaning friends', 'are some people sources of misery', 'what makes people happy', 'this will marginalise unhappy people' etc.

However, the fact of the matter is that the authors and their findings claim no such thing! What is clear from the study, is that happiness is a dynamic phenomenon, and that happy people form clusters and these clusters of happiness can influence others. Although, I am not a sociologist, this seems rather positive and uplifting.

As to how happiness was assessed in this study, the two crucial components of 'hope' and 'joy' were ascertained. It is important not to mistake rapture for happiness. In that sense, humanity despite its struggles with illness, war, poverty and myriad other sociopolitical tragedies, can still generate and spread happiness.

Lastly, as an ex-researcher myself, it is heartening to see something positive come out of the Framingham Heart Study, after decades of cardiovascular anxiety, food fundamentalism and exercise gurus.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: None declared

Sriram Vaidyanathan, Specialist Registrar Radiology

Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, G51 4TF

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