One of the more interesting things I came across when I was researching the factors influencing longevity for Age Gets Better with Wine was the fact that happy, connected people live longer. It makes sense intuitively of course, but what makes it particularly encouraging is that nurturing our connections to community and friends, something we can simply decide to do, has a large influence on lifespan. Throw in a little wine, some exercise, and healthy eating and you’ve got it made.
It turns out that connectedness is linked to happiness too. In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler reveal that networks wield more control over our lives than we realize. Through our social networks, even beyond our circles of friends, we tend to be either overweight, happy, sad, successful or not in measurable ways. Knowing happy people increases the odds of you being happy by 9%, while having unhappy people around lowers it by 7%. Being geographically close helps too, upping the odds of contagious happiness by as much as 25% if they live within a mile or so. What is interesting is that the people you don’t know, but those with whom you associate do, also measurably impact your sense of well being.
What we can’t seem to escape entirely is our genetically determined happiness “set point.” Apparently this is the most important factor, contributing half of whatever it is that gives our spirits a lift. Another 40% relates to our choices; what we choose to do and how we decide to live our lives (This is where wine and friends come in; see also my post on Dec. 21 about how wine might combat depression.) A mere 10% apparently relates to circumstances, such as wealth and health.
So big surprise, money can’t buy happiness. But deciding to have happy people in your life gets it for free.