World and Nation

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For Alaskans, Begich Is A Different Kind of Senator

To get elected in Alaska to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat sometimes requires not acting like one. Talk up drilling for oil in wildlife refuges. Talk up gun rights. Insist that those liberals who control Congress will never push you around.

And when your Republican rival is convicted in federal court shortly before Election Day, do not gloat. He is, after all, Sen. Ted Stevens, once decreed by the State Legislature as Alaskan of the Century.

Of course, that was last century.

Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage is the Democrat who last month pulled off what once seemed unimaginable, becoming only the second Democrat from Alaska to win a seat in Washington since his father was a member of the House of Representatives nearly four decades ago.

His seat in the Senate has been occupied by Stevens since Begich was 6 years old and Alaska was just 9. But Begich, 46, suggests there is something larger at work in his victory than just good timing in taking on a suddenly vulnerable Stevens, who was convicted in October of failing to disclose gifts and home renovations he received from a wealthy oil services industry executive.

Strangers May Cheer You Up

How happy you are may depend on how happy your friends’ friends’ friends are, even if you don’t know them at all.

And a cheery next-door neighbor has more effect on your happiness than your spouse’s mood.

So says a new study that followed a large group of people for 20 years — happiness is more contagious than previously thought.

“Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you,” said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, to be published Friday in BMJ, a British journal. “There’s kind of an emotional quiet riot that occurs and takes on a life of its own, that people themselves may be unaware of. Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon.”

In fact, said his co-author, James H. Fowler, an associate professor of political science at University of California, San Diego, their research found that “if your friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy, that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket.”

The researchers analyzed information on the happiness of 4,739 people and their connections with several thousand others — spouses, relatives, close friends, neighbors and co-workers — from 1983 to 2003.