Flu season. Every year it rolls around, and many of us armor up to avoid its nasty occurrence in our households. We are mindful of washing our hands, cleaning those dirty doorknobs and community areas, and perhaps, getting a flu shot. It’s wise. We don’t want to be left in the flu’s wake.

Viruses aren’t the only thing we can catch from other people. Did you know that emotions are actually contagious? It’s called emotional contagion. It’s when an emotion expressed has a ripple effect and becomes shared by others. Yep! We can catch another’s emotion.

Think about it. Consider Uncle Max entering a family gathering. Before his arrival, it was pleasant. As he stomps in complaining about the food, the weather, and current politics, the atmosphere starts to deteriorate. Before too long, he is not the only one complaining, and we feel our mood beginning to drag. The opposite is also true should our Aunt Kay bring in a heart full of affection and hilarious stories. How long before we are laughing and sharing our own funny and heartfelt stories? 

This has been researched and studied. For example, Sigal Barsade, researcher and Wharton professor, used business school students to research emotional contagion. She divided students into small groups for a simulated management exercise where cooperation and collaboration were important. The activity was seeded with actors to bring different moods, both positive and negative. The researchers were able to identify the effects of emotional contagion and found the “positive contagion” group were more cooperative, experienced less conflict, and performed better overall.

How Do You Use Emotional Contagion to Your Advantage? 

Luckily, you can take a proactive approach when it comes to increasing your good moments. Specifically, when it comes to emotional contagion, there are several things you can do. Follow along for some tips and tricks.

Surround Yourself with Uplifting People

One of the most effective ways to take advantage of emotional contagion is by increasing the amount of time you spend with people who uplift you. Spend a few minutes and think about times in the past when someone lifted your mood. Maybe they make you laugh. Maybe they spark your curiosity. Maybe they warm your heart, make you feel hopeful, grateful, or proud of yourself. Who are these people? Is there a way to increase your time with them?

Be Mindful of Time Spent with Negative People

Do you have a person in your life that is both important to you and also tends to be negative? Most of us do. What I’m NOT advising is to drop friends and family if they are ever negative, but consider when, how, and how often you spend time with them. I know I have a cousin who really struggles with her moods. I still want to be there for her, but I am mindful of how to spend this time. I, for example, would never have coffee with her right before I have an important meeting. This wouldn’t be wise. I also will sometimes invite my siblings along so that perhaps the contagion goes the other way: maybe we can help her feel better!

Audit and Act Upon Your Social Media Activities

Emotional contagion is strongest when we are in person. That said, it doesn’t mean we are immune to emotional contagion when it’s virtual.  A study led by Adam Kramer, a scientist at Facebook, studied this across over 680,000 Facebook users. The researchers used an automated system that manipulated the newsfeed of these users. Users with reduced positive expressions in their newsfeeds created fewer positive posts and more negative posts. And the opposite was true:  those with reduced negative expressions created fewer negative posts and more positive posts. This begs the question: what does your newsfeed look like? Who are you following? What is the balance? You can unfollow those in your virtual circles who are chronically negative. Finally, proactively seek out pages** and people that are likely to shift the balance to the positive. 

Overall, pay attention to how you feel as a result of perusing Facebook. You can always consider cutting down your time on social media if you find it drags you down or you are simply overdosing. Remember, there is a real word out there!

Join a Meetup 

What if you don’t feel like you know enough upbeat people? It might be time to broaden your circle of friends. You can make a plan to put yourself in situations where you might meet new people and connect. Often a great place to start is considering your interests. What are yours? If you like trying new cuisines, for example, find a group of fellow foodies. Finding a group with a shared passion just might help you find others who are enthusiastic in the same quest. It’s easier than it has ever been with the internet. Try the website, Meetup. You can also always go old school and look for events in your town newspaper, library and community center. 

Control Yourself

Finally, don’t forget your influence on others. Try to be mindful of how you contribute to the mood of others. It’s not a one-way street. The more awareness you bring, the more you might be aware of a pesky chronic complaining problem. You might find that you tend to be crankier in certain situations. You can also look at your self-care. You are less likely to have bad moods if you are getting your sleep, exercise, and downtime.  Additionally, pay attention to what lifts you and use it to your advantage. Some things I like to do when I am cranky before a social event: take a quick walk or play a favorite song and sing along. Finally, if you are really in a bad place, it might be time to consider skipping that dinner party. Sometimes, you might need a night at home in lieu of spreading a cranky attitude.

What do You Think? 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Which activity might you try? Better yet: what has worked for you in this context? We invite you to comment below or share it on our Facebook page. 


** I, for one, like the following pages on Facebook:  Upworthy (@upworthy), The Daily Better (@dailybetterbook), and Happiness Heroes (@HappinessHeroes).  You can also check our Facebook page (@positivefaces).

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