An update and some fo-toes

Well finally the debacle that was this semester is over. Some of it was awful, but some truly wonderful things happened too. I began classes this year with a four week old babe. And since those of you who have babies know what that did to me, I will leave it at this: I was in serious pain, and I have never felt more depressed in my life than those days when I had to walk out the door and leave my 'Plink' (Cuppycake) behind, screaming because, well, sometimes that's what babies do when they are unhappy.
But by now, I have acclimated to scurrying off to class, though I still don't enjoy it, it doesn't make me want to find a window to leap from.

Exams are over. The holidays are arriving!
Oh yes, exams.
I screwed up a little bit of the fondness one of my professors had for me this year by missing his final exam. To my credit, he rescheduled it (against University policy anyway) without the approval of the Provost's office, and then did not announce the changes via email, or on our course website.
I got to make it up, and it didn't cost my GPA too much because I somehow made a B in the class, so it wasn't that big of a deal in the end. Another professor lost all of my assignments for the year, which was a bummer. We figured it out though.
And Pappa Starbucks and I have not found jobs yet, but we did apply for, research for, plan and interview for (and yes, we got selected!!) a really incredible scholarship that is sending us, all expenses paid, to Ireland in the Spring.
And we're entering our very. last. semester (HALLELUJAH!!) in January.
Today, we are frumping around and fighting as much as we want to, and maybe finally cleaning a little bit, or searching for a few rampant Christmas decorations. I'm making many of the presents this year for nieces, nephews, etc. and there behind me and inspiring me is this book I wanted so long, and two sweet baby dolls are getting their own diaper bags, cloth diapers, rattles, and finger puppets as well as teeny blankets. 'Dorable!

Should be fun, because around here, we usually define "fun" as plucking each other's eyebrows.




I am still feeling vague and still navigating this last week of exams, but here's something I stumbled on today and thought was definitely worth reading. Enjoy!

Happiness Is 'Infectious' In Network Of Friends: Collective -- Not Just Individual -- Phenomenon

ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2008) —
If you're happy and you know it, thank your friends—and their friends. And while you're at it, their friends' friends. But if you're sad, hold the blame. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego have found that "happiness" is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion.

In a study that looked at the happiness of nearly 5000 individuals over a period of twenty years, researchers found that when an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person's happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends. The effect lasts for up to one year.

The flip side, interestingly, is not the case: Sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness. Happiness appears to love company more so than misery.

"We've found that your emotional state may depend on the emotional experiences of people you don't even know, who are two to three degrees removed from you," says Harvard Medical School professor Nicholas Christakis, who, along with James Fowler from the University of California, San Diego co-authored this study. "And the effect isn't just fleeting."

For over two years now, Christakis and Fowler have been mining data from the Framingham Heart Study (an ongoing cardiovascular study begun in 1948), reconstructing the social fabric in which individuals are enmeshed and analyzing the relationship between social networks and health. The researchers uncovered a treasure trove of data from archived, handwritten administrative tracking sheets dating back to 1971. All family changes for each study participant, such as birth, marriage, death, and divorce, were recorded. In addition, participants had also listed contact information for their closest friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Coincidentally, many of these friends were also study participants. Focusing on 4,739 individuals, Christakis and Fowler observed over 50,000 social and family ties and analyzed the spread of happiness throughout this group.

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.

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.

"We've found that while all people are roughly six degrees separated from each other, our ability to influence others appears to stretch to only three degrees," says Christakis. "It's the difference between the structure and function of social networks."

These effects are limited by both time and space. The closer a friend lives to you, the stronger the emotional contagion. But as distance increases, the effect dissipates. This explains why next door neighbors have an effect, but not neighbors who live around the block. In addition, the happiness effect appears to wear off after roughly one year. "So the spread of happiness is constrained by time and geography," observes Christakis, who is also a professor of sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "It can't just happen at any time, any place."

They also found that, contrary to what your parents taught you, popularity *does* lead to happiness. People in the center of their network clusters are the most likely people to become happy, odds that increase to the extent that the people surrounding them also have lots of friends. However, becoming happy does not help migrate a person from the network fringe to the center. Happiness spreads through the network without altering its structure.

"Imagine an aerial view of a backyard party," Fowler explains. "You'll see people in clusters at the center, and others on the outskirts. The happiest people tend to be the ones in the center. But someone on the fringe who suddenly becomes happy, say through a particular exchange, doesn't suddenly move into the center of the group. He simply stays where he is—only now he has a far more satisfying sense of well-being. Happiness works not by changing where you're located in the network; it simply spreads through the network."

Fowler also points out that these findings give us an interesting perspective for this holiday season, which arrives smack in the middle of some pretty gloomy economic times. Examination of this dataset shows that having $5,000 extra increased a person's chances of becoming happier by about 2 percent. But that the same data also show, as Fowler notes, that "Someone you don't know and have never met—the friend of a friend of a friend—can have a greater influence than hundreds of bills in your pocket."

This is the third major network analysis by Christakis and Fowler that shows how our health is affected by our social context. The two previous studies, both published in the New England Journal of Medicine, described the social network effects in obesity and smoking cessation.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, a Pioneer Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a contract from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to the Framingham Heart Study.

Harvard Medical School (2008, December 5). Happiness Is 'Infectious' In Network Of Friends: Collective -- Not Just Individual -- Phenomenon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/12/081205094506.htm