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Choose Your Friends Wisely

by Beth on December 6th, 2012

In a previous blog I mentioned a study by professors Christakis and Fowler that found that kindness is contagious. In their book Connected, they site many other examples of social contagion. Results from the research on social influence is fascinating and even a bit scary! Here are some other ways in which your life is influenced by your network of connections:

  • Obesity – the probability that you become obese increases 57% if a friend of yours becomes obese. Having an obese spouse makes it 37% more likely that you become obese. You are also more likely to lose weight if a friend or even a friend’s friend loses weight.
  • Divorce – you are 75% more likely to be divorced if someone that you are directly connected to is divorced. Your probability of being divorced is 33% higher if a friend of a friend is divorced.
  • Smoking – having a direct connection to someone who smokes increases the odds that you will smoke by 61%. You are 29% more likely to smoke if a friend of a friend smokes and 11% more likely to smoke if your friend’s friend’s friend smokes.
  • Happiness – having a friend who is happy increases your happiness more than a $10,000 raise. In fact, having a friend of a friend of a friend who is happy will make you happier than the raise.

Wow! Hard to believe, huh? Network contagion works by influencing your perception of the social acceptance of certain behaviors. The more people you know who are divorced, the more getting divorced will seem like a valid option to you. If people around you become overweight your idea of what normal weight is will start to change. If many of your coworkers go to the gym everyday you will start seeing exercise as a typical daily activity and might convince a friend from the neighborhood to join you for walks. If people around you tend to look on the bright side of things rather than complaining about what is going wrong, this will draw your attention to more of the good and less of the bad, thus increasing your happiness.

Your health and happiness really do depend in part on the people in your social network. So it is in your best interest to spend as much time as you can with people who have good habits and positive outlooks on life.

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