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By Eric Barker
July 31, 2015
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

We all want an awesome life. And very often you know what you need to do to improve it… but you don’t do it.

I don’t blame you. Hey, some of that stuff is hard. (I should know. I write about it all the time.)

Isn’t there an easy, passive way where your flaws start correcting themselves, you gain respectable goals and become much, much happier?

Well, at least in theory, there just might be. I called somebody to find out.

Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a professor at Yale University and directs the Human Nature Lab there. He is the author (with James Fowler) of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Here’s his TED talk:

Tons of research (and common sense) shows that the people around you influence your behavior. In fact, they influence it a lot more than you might think and probably more than you’re comfortable with admitting.

But here’s the really crazy part: not only do your friends affect your behavior, so do their friends. And their friends’ friends. Here’s Nicholas:

So if you spend time with different people, could you become a different person?

Want the laziest way to improve your life? The prescription is simple…

 

1) Hang Around The People You Want To Be

The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:

In Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

Many researchers I have spoken to, from Duke’s Dan Ariely to Cornell’s Brian Wansink, have emphasized context as the most powerful (and most ignored) catalyst for changing your life.

But what if you’re not even trying to make big changes in your life? What if you just want to be treated well? Turns out altruism and jerk-itude also move through networks. Here’s Nicholas:

And the workplace isn’t much different. Behavior is contagious there, too.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

When I spoke to Stanford GSB professor Bob Sutton, he told me his #1 piece of advice to students was this:

(For more on how to get people to like you, from an FBI behavior expert, click here.)

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So the people around you can unconsciously affect your behavior in many ways — positive and negative. Let’s focus on one thing we’re all interested in: happiness. Because this is where it gets really interesting…

 

2) Making Friends = Making Happiness

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

Meanwhile, being surrounded by happy friends makes 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.

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

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. So next time you meet up with a happy pal, ask them to bring a friend. Even a lazy person can manage that.

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

Here’s the really interesting part: you can totally rig the system. It’s the scientific version of karma.

With the effect spanning three degrees, there’s a good chance making a small effort to make friends happier will flow back to you.

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

(For more on what you can learn from the happiest people in the world, click here.)

So, lazy bones, are you willing to send a couple emails or texts to dramatically increase your happiness? Here’s how.

 

3) 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 each other.

Again, happy friends means a 9% gain, unhappy friend means a 7% loss. All other things being equal, I’ll take those odds in Vegas any day. This strengthens the network, and increases everyone’s chance of staying happy.

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

(To learn the 4 most common relationship problems — and how to fix them, click here.)

So a few tiny efforts can yield massive positive change in your life. Let’s round up the details and learn two other fascinating tidbits that can change the way you see the world — and make that world a better place.

 

Sum Up

Here’s what we can learn from Nicholas:

  • Hang out with the people you want to be: Behaviors spread like a virus. Make sure it’s one you want to be infected with.
  • Make more friends. Time spent making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money.
  • Introduce friends to friends. Friends becoming happy increases your chance of happiness by 45%. Keeping the network happy protects you against unhappiness.

Other research Nicholas did turned up something truly heartwarming: friends are family. Quite literally. Here’s Nicholas:

And one last thing: keep in mind that Nicholas’ research also gives you great power. And, as all good Spider-Man fans know, with “great power comes great responsibility.” Here’s Nicholas:

When you make a positive change in your life, it affects the people around you and ripples out to others.

So you can be lazy and see benefits by surrounding yourself with great people — but you can also choose to make strides in your life, even small ones, and contagiously pass those benefits to those you care about.

Making yourself a better person isn’t a gift you only give to yourself. It’s a gift you give to the world.

Spread the happiness virus! Share this with friends (and friends of friends, and friends of… you get it.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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