I know this is uncharacteristically optimistic, but my wish for you all on the cusp of 2009 is that you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who is happy.
I'll explain: There's some scientific backing now to the notion that happiness is contagious. You've heard the warning that when you sleep with someone you're actually having sex with all the people they've ever loved before? Well, now scientists think glee is passed along in much the same way. Kind of like getting all the positives of a STD without the itch.
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The study, done by scientists from Harvard and UC San Diego (i.e.: no slouches) and published in the British Medical Journal, found that happiness spreads through social networks of family members, friends and neighbors. The ripple effect extends as much as three degrees, spreading to friends of friends of friends. After following a large group of people for 20 years, the researchers concluded that knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3 percent more likely to be happy yourself. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8 percent. Even your neighbor's sister's friend can give you a 5.6 percent boost.
Last year, the same researchers made headlines when they reported that obesity seems to spread through social groups, so that your chances of becoming overweight are greater when your friends and their friends gain weight. A related study, published earlier this year, found that smokers were more likely to give up cigarettes when their family, friends and other social contacts stopped smoking.
We should take away two important lessons from this new info. First, along with fat smokers, we should avoid people who are perpetual pessimists. You know the type. If you grew up watching the Banana Splits and Danger Island on Saturday mornings then you will immediately think of (as I do) that Lilliputian character named Glum in The Adventures of Gulliver. You know, the gloomy one who always repeated in a slow, whiny voice, "It'll never work. We're doomed. We'll never make it." When you hear that negative tone from someone in your proximity, you should immediately back peddle.
The other lesson is that we should all make an effort to be happy. It will improve the lives of not only those around us, but people we don't even know. We could make the whole damn world a happier place if we work at cultivating our own euphoria. Gives a whole new context to "Happy Holidays," doesn't it?
So, my new year's challenge to you all is simply this: Be happy.