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By Eric Barker
May 29, 2014

Do you believe in karma?

Research shows that most of us do, whether we admit it or not.

When we want something and we’re unsure whether we’ll get it, we become more helpful:

You feel that if you do something good, fate will look on you fondly and grant your wishes.

This isn’t utter delusion or pollyanna foolishness.

Research into social networks is showing karma may be quite real.

The people who surround you dramatically affect your behavior without you even realizing it.

You know the “Six degrees of Separation” idea or the more popular “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”?

(I explored this concept in a post about Paul Erdos — the undeniable center of the mathematics world.)

Behavior is influenced three degrees out. So you are affected by the whims of friends of friends of friends — and similarly, they by you.

Political views, weight gain, smoking and even that very very important thing, happiness, are all influenced by strangers.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

Have a depressed roommate? You’re more likely to become depressed. Moods can be like infections.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

Happy friends make you 15% more likely to be happy.

Even if a friend of a friend of a friend becomes happier, that means a 6% chance you will become happier.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

Neat trick but 6% may not seem like a big deal to you.

Guess what? You’re wrong.

Making Friends = Making Happiness

Would $10,000 dollars make you happier? I’ll assume you’re nodding. Research shows 10K only provides a 2% increased chance of happiness.

So the happiness of people you have never met — and may never meet — is three times as powerful.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

A happy friend increases the likelihood of you being happy by 9%. An unhappy friend means a 7% decrease.

You don’t need a degree in accounting to figure out what that means: overall, more friends = more happiness.

Spending time making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

The Best Way To Be Selfish Might Be Selflessness

You probably know where I’m going with this whole science of karma thing now: you can totally rig the system.

With the effect spanning three degrees, there’s a good chance making most people in your daily life happy will flow back to you.

Christakis and Fowler found that if a friend became happy in the past six months there’s a 45% chance your happiness will increase.

At the very least, working to keep your friends happy protects you against “infection” by unhappiness.

Want to be happier? The best way to be selfish about happiness is looking like selflessness.

Introduce Friends To Friends

Unsurprisingly, people at the periphery of a network have fewer friends and are more likely to be lonely.

And yes, that loneliness can flow back three degrees to you. (And no, you can’t easily track these people down and kick them out of your network.)

Know what you can do? Introduce your friends to other friends.

Like I said: happy friends means 9% gain, unhappy friend means 7% loss. All other things being equal, I’ll take those odds in Vegas any day.

This strengthens the network, and selfishly increases your chance of staying happy.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

The idea of karma has been around for thousands of years and, if you think about it, back then people knew very few strangers.

Three degrees of separation was all that the vast majority of people had. And that’s still true for many of us.

As I’ve posted before, friends are the key to happiness and the best way to improve your life is through relationships.

None of this costs money. None of it is hard work. It can be as easy as sending an email.

And, studies show, it has a better chance of making you happy over the long run than $10,000.

Seriously, what the hell are you waiting for?

The 3 Things To Remember

  1. Make more friends. Time spent making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money.
  2. Make your friends happy. Friends becoming happy increases your chance of happiness by 45%.
  3. Introduce friends to friends. Keeping the network happy protects you against “infection” by unhappiness.

Next Steps

  • How do you make more friends? Go here.
  • How do you make your friends happy? Go here.
  • How do you strengthen your network? Go here.
  • What’s an easy daily ritual for achieving all these things? Go here.

Want to learn more? Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Here are the things proven to make you happier

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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