Happy people mix with happy people. Wow – hold the front page…! That’s one of the conclusions to a major study from the University of California and Harvard Medical School, published in today’s British Medical Journal.

The researchers looked at people in a particular (offline) social network around Framingham, Massachusetts. This network has been in place for over 60 years as a result of the now legendary Framingham Heart Study, which has provided a huge amount of data about heart disease for doctors.

This latest analysis tells us that happiness is a group thing – you are happy if other people in your network are happy. And, importantly you are happy if the contacts of your contacts are happy. Indeed, if someone is separated from you by two other people, and they are happy, you are significantly more likely to also be happy.

The research, of course, is a statement of the obvious. The people you choose to be with mirror your own personality, feelings, temperament and so on. If you are happy, the chances are you will choose happy people to be with. That means all of your contacts and their contacts will also be happy people. The result will be in any social networks clusters of happy people and clusters of more miserable, negative individuals.

You will no doubt know people who always see the glass half full and others who always see it half empty. If you are a half full person, you will want to mix with other half full people – and they likewise. In other words, we could easily find a statistically significant link between most people in your network in terms of half fullness….!

But the study also looked at changes in happiness and how these were associated with the contacts in the groups being analysed. This finding has an important impact because if the mood changes within your network, even two or three people away, it can affect your feelings – almost by osmosis.

Online this is particularly important. On Facebook or Ecademy, merely accepting any connection or “friend” could have a negative impact on you. As your online social network grows, you could be adding people who are less happy than you, who have a more negative outlook on life – and that will affect the way you feel.

Even though the BMJ study can be criticised for being a complex method of stating the obvious, it does show us one thing that’s important for online social networkers. Constantly adding friends and connections may have an adverse effect in the long term – unless you are sure all those connections are really similar to you. Random connections may work against you.

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