Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD and James H. Fowler, PhD wrote the book “Connected” in which they determined the importance of the people, family and friends who are in our network as to who we are and what decisions we make. Moving from the idea of total independence they affirm that we are all interconnected and that we are less free than we may think we are. Here are some quotes from their book:
“Humans deliberately make and remake their social networks all the time. …to associate with people who resemble themselves. We choose the structure of that network as to how many people we are connected to. We infer how densely interconnected our friends and family are. We control how central we are to the social network.”
“The average American has just four close social contacts.”
“Your centrality affects everything from how much money you make to whether you will be happy.”
“We are influenced by friends within three degrees but generally not by those beyond.”
“If we are connected to everyone else by six degrees and we can influence them up to three degrees, then one way to think about ourselves is that each of us can reach about halfway to everyone else on the planet Moreover, even when restricted to three degrees, the extent of our effect on others is extraordinary.”
“It is well-known that having more friends and relatives is much more likely to put a smile on your face than having more cash. We found that each happy friend a person has increased that person’s probability of bring happy by about 9 percent. That means that the more friends your friends have the more likely you are to be happy.”
“In the Dunbar study it was determined that animals cannot maintain the cohesion and integrity of social groups larger than a size governed by the information-processing capacity of their brains. That number for humans is 150.”
“Interconnection between people give rise to phenomena that are not present in individuals or reducible to their solitary desires and actions. When we lose our connections, we lose everything.”
I finished plowing though “Connected” the week before Thanksgiving. This week I sat down to address and notate my holiday cards. Thinking all the while about each person’s influence on me and me on them. I determined that there is some commonality I share with my personal 133 earth travelers, but more specifically on the four women closest to me. Where would I be without their honest, often uncomfortable feedback. Would I ever go to a gym or workout class without their influence? Would I care about my dress, my personal appearance, my home decor without their noticing my choices? Would it matter to me what they think of my social decisions? They are my standard bearers and they are not easy to please. Did Christakis and Fowler determine that we chose people who resemble ourselves? Hmmm.
Not an easy book, full of experimental data, but I selected points of interest. If you are like me, you might find my selections of interest, too. Welcome to my network. I have room for 17.
In conclusion, “When we take better care of ourselves, so do many other people. When we practice random acts of kindness, they can spread to dozens or even hundreds of other people. And with each good deed, we help to sustain the very network that sustains us.”
Ellen Blaufarb is a marriage and family therapist.