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"Every friend increases the probability that you're at the center of a network, which means you are more eligible to get a wave of happiness," Fowler said.
Being happy also brings other benefits, including a protective effect on your immune system so you produce fewer stress hormones, said Andrew Steptoe, a psychology professor at University College London who was not involved with the study.
But you shouldn't assume you can make yourself happy just by making the right friends.
"To say you can manipulate who your friends are to make yourself happier would be going too far," said Stanley Wasserman, an Indiana University statistician who studies social networks.
The study was only conducted in a single community, so it would take more research to confirm its findings. But in a time of economic gloom, it also suggested some heartening news about money and happiness.
According to the research, an extra chunk of money increases your odds of being happy only marginally -- notably less than the odds of being happier if you have a happy friend.
"You can save your money," Christakis said. "Being around happy people is better."
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