Based on some of my previous posts, you'll no doubt know that I'm a big believer in the positive impact of social connectivity and social capital. Research cited in this article further bolsters the evidence that, all else being equal, having a solid, functioning, social network is a boon to one's overall sense of happiness and well-being. According to the article, having a friend who is happy increases one's own chances of experiencing happiness to a significant degree, depending upon proximity. From the article:
Using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Index (a standard metric) that study participants completed, the researchers found that when an individual becomes happy, a friend living within a mile experiences a 25 percent increased chance of becoming happy. A co-resident spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance, siblings living within one mile have a 14 percent increased chance, and for next door neighbors, 34 percent.
However, the two results that served to be even more surprising were as follows: 1) Sadness does not work in the same way, and 2) friends of friends have a "ripple effect" on well-being. First, what the researchers discovered is that misery does not love company in the same way that happiness does; its impact is not nearly as strong on people within the same social network. On the second point, what the researchers were pointing out is that if a "friend of a friend" experiences some degree of happiness, there is a significant chance that that happiness may well impact you positively, in an indirect way (but only to "three dgrees of separation"):
But the real surprise came with indirect relationships. Again, while an individual becoming happy increases his friend's chances, a friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness, and a friend of *that* friend has a 5.6 percent increased chance—a three-degree cascade.
What I found interesting about the article was the emphasis on physical proximity with respect to the potential impact - according to the research, the further away the individuals lived from each other, the less impact each other's well being had on each other. With this research spanning the last 20 years, it would be interesting to see whether the tremendous advances in technology (and athe associated increases in the ability of people to connect socially, such as with cell phones, e-mail, social networking sites, etc.) have any impact on the effects cited by the authors of this research.
Regardless of the specifics, the overall message remains clear: people do better when connected, and connected people do better. From a therapeutic perspective, clinicians need to consistently assess their client's overall social functioning, and seek to improve their social connectivity when and where necessary. Parents, don't ignore signs your child lacks social skills, has trouble interacting, etc. The older someone gets, the more work required to learn these skills. If your child struggles with depression, anxiety, shyness, or other issues that are impacting their ability connect with others, things may well only get tougher as they older, unless these concerns are addressed. And once again, I can't push Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone often enough, regardless of whether you are a parent, a clinician, or just a concerned citizen.