Friday, December 12, 2008

Happiness is contagious: study

More stupid data dredging. The most it proves is that happy people tend to have more friends. Hardly surprising

Happiness is contagious, researchers reported on Thursday. The same team that demonstrated obesity and smoking spread in networks has shown that the more happy people you know, the more likely you are yourself to be happy. And getting connected to happy people improves a person's own happiness, they reported in the British Medical Journal. "What we are dealing with is an emotional stampede," Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a telephone interview.

Christakis and James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, have been using data from 4,700 children of volunteers in the Framingham Heart Study, a giant health study begun in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1948. They have been analyzing a trove of facts from tracking sheets dating back to 1971, following births, marriages, death, and divorces. Volunteers also listed contact information for their closest friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

They assessed happiness using a simple, four-question test. "People are asked how often during the past week, one, I enjoyed life, two, I was happy, three, I felt hopeful about the future, and four, I felt that I was just as good as other people," Fowler said. The 60 percent of people who scored highly on all four questions were rated as happy, while the rest were designated unhappy. [Rather crass!]

People with the most social connections -- friends, spouses, neighbors, relatives -- were also the happiest, the data showed. "Each additional happy person makes you happier," Christakis said. "Imagine that I am connected to you and you are connected to others and others are connected to still others. It is this fabric of humanity, like an American patch quilt."

Each person sits on a different-colored patch. "Imagine that these patches are happy and unhappy patches. Your happiness depends on what is going on in the patch around you," Christakis said. "It is not just happy people connecting with happy people, which they do. Above and beyond, there is this contagious process going on."

And happiness is more contagious than unhappiness, they discovered. "If a social contact is happy, it increases the likelihood that you are happy by 15 percent," Fowler said. "A friend of a friend, or the friend of a spouse or a sibling, if they are happy, increases your chances by 10 percent," he added. A happy third-degree friend -- the friend or a friend of a friend -- increases a person's chances of being happy by 6 percent. "But every extra unhappy friend increases the likelihood that you'll be unhappy by 7 percent," Fowler said.

The finding is interesting but it is useful, too Fowler said. "Among other benefits, happiness has been shown to have an important effect on reduced mortality, pain reduction, and improved cardiac function. So better understanding of how happiness spreads can help us learn how to promote a healthier society," he said. The study also fits in with other data that suggested -- in 1984 -- that having $5,000 extra increased a person's chances of becoming happier by about 2 percent. "A happy friend is worth about $20,000," Christakis said.

His team also is examining the spread of depression, loneliness, and drinking behavior.


An "obese" baby??

Olivia Villella is a healthy, thriving baby girl, according to her mother and the experts. But staff at an ABC childcare centre have branded her "fat" and "obese". Now upset mum Belinda Moss-Villella, 32, has pulled the 10-month-old out of the centre, fearing staff won't feed her enough. Olivia, who weighs 9.3kg, comes within the healthy weight range on official charts used to measure babies' growth and development.

"She's no 'boomba'. She's just a baby," Ms Moss-Villella told the Herald Sun. "Yes, she's very chubby. Yes, she's got rolls on her arms and her legs and her tummy. But she's a baby. They're meant to have rolls." The curly-haired tot with the chubby cheeks is around the 75th percentile for weight and the 25th percentile for height (70cm) for her age - all within normal ranges.

Baby Olivia was given a big tick at a weigh-in with a council maternal and child health nurse last week. "The nurse has never, ever told me Olivia is too fat. "She did say last week, 'Belinda, she's certainly not lacking.' But too fat? Never," Ms Moss-Villella said. She said people often stopped her in the street or while shopping to comment on her daughter's curls, but none had mentioned her size.

The Dandenong North mum said she was stunned when her four-year-old son, Lucca, told her staff at the childcare centre called his baby sister a "fat beast". When she complained, a staff member explained Lucca had got it wrong - the words used were "fat and obese". "I couldn't believe it. It's not like I'm sitting here feeding her chips and McDonald's every day," the mother-of-four said. She said bottle-fed Olivia eats a normal diet - usually Weetbix for breakfast, mashed vegetables for lunch, and chicken for dinner, with fruit, cheese or yoghurt for snacks.

Olivia and Lucca attended the ABC Belvedere Learning Centre in Noble Park North three days a week, while Ms Moss-Villella studied. But she withdrew both children yesterday when told that the staff involved would continue to care for Olivia. "I'm just so worried that if they think she's too fat, they just won't give her enough to eat," she said. "I just can't believe the comments and after hearing them, I can't trust that my children are getting appropriate care there. "As a mum who loves my kids, I just can't subject them to that. "In my heart of hearts, my heart says don't do it. "They obviously have a lot to learn about babies."

A staff member at the Princes Highway centre refused to comment yesterday. But Kay Gibbons, head of nutrition at the Royal Children's Hospital, said Olivia appeared "perfectly normal". "At that age, they're meant to be chubby. If growth is regular and steady, there's nothing to worry about," she said. She said babies often slimmed down when they began crawling.


1 comment:

John A said...

Re the "obese" baby (ABC Belvedere Learning Centre story), popular ideas have [been] changed since the days when abies were exected to look like Winston Churchill, not Twiggy.

Health has not, just the main-stream idea of it.