Did you know that emotions are contagious? Seriously! It’s not that dissimilar to catching a cold. When you are around others, especially for a length of time, you can catch their emotions. Well, as long as you have a functional mirror neuron in your brain, that is.
What’s a mirror neuron? I’m glad you asked. It’s the part of your brain that is involved in creating rapport, sympathy and empathy as well as our emotional intelligence. How it works is that when we see someone else with a particular emotion, let’s say the person is crying, then our mirror neuron “tries on” that emotion and mirrors it as if we were crying ourselves. This is why you get sad during movies when the character is sad. It’s why you smile at a perfect stranger who smiled at you and it’s why you yawn when someone else yawns even if you aren’t tired.
It makes sense then that we want to be careful about who we hang around with, right? You wouldn’t go hang around someone who had a terrible infectious disease, would you? So, you wouldn’t go hang around someone who was always complaining, blaming and upset all the time, would you? The chances are that you would “catch” those emotions from that person.
Here’s an example of how this works. My sister and I were talking once about how her marriage wasn’t going so well. I was ready to listen but at the same time I was very curious. I asked her to tell me about her friends. She didn’t see the connection between her friends & her marital issues but she humored me. She was close to about 5 woman. Of the 5, one was going through a bitter divorce. My sister talked to her regularly and provided support for her friend who was miserable and angry. Of the other 4, two were getting divorced. My sister was surrounded by woman who were unhappy in their relationships and talking about it all the time. When my sister spoke to her friends, she sympathized and emphasized like any good friend would do. She has an active mirror neuron. The more stories she heard the more she compared her life to those stories looking for similarities. It’s unconscious. It’s our mirror neuron doing its job! My suggestion to my sister was stop hanging around her friends. I know it sounds really harsh but there’s one thing I learned as a lifeguard – you’re completely useless in helping others when you’re drowning yourself! Always keep your head above water. For me, that means looking out for yourself, in however you need to, before you help others.
This week’s happiness challenge is to make a list of all the people that you hang around with on a regular basis. After you’ve made the list, place a “1” by the people who are detrimental to your happiness. Those are the people who are quarantined because you might catch their negative stuff. Place a “2” by the people who are neutral. They are neither bad nor good for your happiness. And place a “3” by the people who elevate your happiness to new levels. Now, make a commitment to yourself that you will start hanging around the people who have a 3 on your list way more than you do now. And make a commitment that you will be the person that the people who are a number 2 on your list catch their happiness from! And lastly, try and avoid seeing the people with a number 1. If you must, try and see them with other #2s or #3s. This way, you’ll be more likely coming out of the experience in a neutral state rather than with a nasty, negative emotional cold.
To your happiness,