Emotional Contagion

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, happiness is my word for 2014. I’m generally an upbeat, optimistic person, so much so that I occasionally get on people’s nerves. Case in point. Recently my husband was moaning and groaning about taxes, and I remarked, “I remember once feeling the sting of property taxes right after Christmas, and when I told Mama about it, she wasn’t at all sympathetic.”

He had known and admired my mother so I had his attention.

I continued with my mother’s words, “Just be thankful you have the money to pay them, Darlin’.”

His grouchy, grumpy expression didn’t change one iota.

“Am I getting on your nerves with this type of thinking and talking?”

“Sort of,” he admitted. “It doesn’t make me feel any better if that’s what you mean.”

Still, I am what I am. According to Gretchen Rubin and the psychologists that she studied while writing The Happiness Project, a person’s innate temperament accounts for about 50 percent of her emotional set point. While I already knew that temperament, the raw material from which the personality is fashioned, is important, I liked being reminded of that little factoid.

#1. I like thinking of getting this characteristic from my mother. #2. It helps me to understand when some people are perpetually down in the dumps, gloom and doom prognosticators or dismal days ahead. They are what they are.

All that to say that like Rubin, although I am generally a happy person, I could be happier. I could work on that other 50 percent of my temperament that can change according to personal choices, effort, and environment.  We all can. Some people just choose not to. Like Rubin, I realized that nothing was going to change unless I made it happen. It’s yet another way of saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

There are dozens and dozens of suggestions in The Happiness Project, but today I’m zeroing in on a neat concept, emotional contagion. If you’re around people who are negative, pessimistic, or complaining, guess what happens? Right. You become more like them. Years ago, I came across a phrase that I’ve practiced ever since I saw it: sidestep negative energy. I don’t want to be infected by negativity, and have consequently tried to surround myself with positive people (note above photo). I want to be uplifted, not brought down.

Here’s the flip side to this emotional contagion concept. We all  have the power to affect other people’s moods. I think this is especially true for women, for it seems that they set the emotional tone of the home. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true that the dad, brother, husband can send out negative vibes too, of course, but when he does, often people just stay out of his way.

I’ve made the choice to act upbeat and happy in the belief that my mood will affect the people around me. Rubin says she began singing in the morning and that her children liked that. She also began acting silly with them and found that her children and husband “caught” her mood. I haven’t started singing yet, but I have started listening to more music and humming along. And I’m working on the silly part.

Regardless of inner feelings, I’m making a concerted effort to act happier today. I’m going to put the emotional contagion concept to work and smile more. What’s something you can do to affect your environment, the one inside of your head and the one you live in?

Stealing Second

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This morning as I read some end-of-semester journals, I noticed that many students had opted to post entries on the psychology blog and then copy and paste their posts into their journals. That’s fine by me, especially since their responses piqued my curiosity enough to go back and revisit the blog. One that particularly caught my attention is about taking chances and going for it, a theme we often discuss in positive psychology.  With only one additional sentence, here’s the copied and pasted post.  Can you see any applications in your own life? I can.

Truth surfaces in the most unlikely places. One minute you’re scurrying into Wal-Mart to pick up some bread and shampoo, and the next minute you’re pondering the words on a person’s tee-shirt.  The message is one that’s been explored on this site fairly often, and yet it’s worth mentioning again. Why??? Because it’s a fact  that some people need reminding of it again and again.

Here goes: “You can’t steal second base with a foot on first.” Clever, very clever. And so true! On the baseball field and in life, you can’t move towards making your dreams become reality if you can’t let go of the safety of your current life situation(s).

Do any of these scenarios ring true?

*You want to travel but are too afraid to board a plane.
*You want to be a professional dancer, but you just can’t leave Podunk, USA to receive the training you need.
*You want to meet someone “special,” someone who makes your heart sing, someone you could spend your life with. You can’t find this special person if you’re sitting in front of your television night after night
*You want to pursue a degree in Golf Course Management, but the only school in the state that offers that degree is two hours away. How can you leave your family and friends?
*You want to attend school full-time, but you’re afraid to take the financial plunge that could make it happen. How can you live on less? It’s better to stay on first base. Or is it?

What’s holding you on first base?  Just do it!  Some of Abraham Maslow’s advice to anyone on the ascent to self-actualization is to say YES to life, to possibilities, to opportunities, to challenges.  As John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

What’s keeping you from stealing second base? Why is your foot still on first when you could be literally running towards a better life?