Emotional Contagion & the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, Christmas everywhere, and a plethora of holidays around the world, no doubt idyllic Norman Rockwell images pop into mind. Or maybe Norman has been replaced by the formulaic sentimentality of the Hallmark holiday movie industry. Either way, we are transported to visions of sugar plums, loving connection, and unconditional support wrapped up in a perfectly tied silk bow and served alongside steaming hot chocolate with two heart-shaped marshmallows.

And then we go home to our families.

Now don’t get all huffy my family of origin, I am referring to the Royal We family. Not any of you specifically.

When people get together, even people who love and care for each other, things are not always perfect. The reality of our lives is that we are all human and imperfect. We have bad moods. We have differing opinions. We have expectations which are hard to live up to. And it is gosh darn hard to maintain a joyful attitude all the time, especially if we have someone experiencing a Scrooge moment around us.

eeyore and friends wallpaper

But it is important that we try. I recently read an article which explores Emotional Contagion. Emotional Contagion is basically how, like we can catch a cold from those around us, we can also catch others’ emotions. Because humans mirror and mimic each other, one person’s bad mood can ruin the mood of everyone around them, and then everyone around those people.

What can be done?

First, don’t be “that guy.” Be aware of your own emotional state. What are you experiencing that you might unconsciously transmit to others? Clean up any Negative Nelly thinking before you hit the party circuit or share anything on social media. It may feel good to scream out the negativity, but if you knew it would not release you from your bad mood but instead spread the crud to others, would you still do it?

Next, watch out for “that guy.” It may be an Eeyore at work, crotchety Uncle Bill, or your best friend on a bad day. Doesn’t matter who it is. What is important is to keep your eyes open for someone who might be spreading holiday anti-cheer.

Once you have identified the ground zero of negativity you have two choices. First, try to help the poor soul. Usually the person experiencing a bad mood is not enjoying being grumpy any more than you enjoy being around them when they are grumpy. Empathize, distract, encourage, instill gratitude. Look to your toolbox of things that make you happy and see if any of them can break your friend out of their mood. Second, run away. If someone is in a funk and you are not able to help them escape it, get yourself a safe distance away so you don’t catch – and spread – what they are exuding.

During the holidays, and every day, decide if you want to spread cheer or negativity. Acknowledge your ability to make this a happier, better world by controlling your emotions and if/how you take on the emotions of others.

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