getting happy

I recently heard about a fascinating bit of research on the ways in which happiness spreads through social networks. After a little digging, I found the article “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study”and I think it has some interesting implications for sexuality.

Just to be clear- the article isn’t specifically about sex. The researchers surveyed people on their level of happiness and looked at the happiness level of people in their family and social networks to see what relationships existed. They put it together in a graphical format (link to the right), as well as applying statistical models to analyze it. In the graphical representation, “each node is coloured [sic] accordingto the person’s happiness on a spectrum from blue (unhappy)to yellow (happy).”

One of the things that I found really interesting is that each person’s happiness is affected by people up to three degrees of separation away- the happiness of your friend’s friend’s friend has an effect on you. Of course, the closer the relationship, the bigger the effect but the fact that people that far away have a significant influence on our level of happiness is something to think about.

So how does this come back to sex? I’ve seen over and over how it’s a lot easier to have a happy sex life when you’ve got a social network full of people who also have happy sex lives. My grandmother said that you should spend time with people who are like the person you want to be. She wasn’t talking about sex, but I think it applies here, too. One of the ways that we can move towards sexual well-being is to be around people who value it, who consider it worth working for. Fortunately, even if you don’t have such a community around you, you can find it online.

I think that this idea also highlights how important it can be to talk about the things that make us happy, including our sex lives (when it does, that is). Happiness can spread from person to person and even when we don’t see the effects, it can still be there. In US society, we tend to not talk about having good sex. I wonder what the world would be like if more people could tell their friends “I had the most amazing sex last night!” While there would certainly be some envy sometimes, it might help us to value sexual happiness.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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