Good News—Positive Emotions Are Contagious

An uplifting outlook can literally change the minds of those in both your virtual and actual social networks.

Posted in , Apr 5, 2019

Positive emotions are contagious.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor,” said Charles Dickens. Modern research suggests that the idea of contagious emotions is more than a literary flourish; it has a basis in science.

The smallest emotional moments of connection between two people reveal that your attitude impacts your neighbor's attitudes, and their attitude impacts their coworkers’ attitude and so on and so on through the complex social networks we all travel. 

Sociologist Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, who led a 32-year-long study of face-to-face interactions among 5,000 people in one town, told, “If someone smiles at you, you smile back at them. That's a very fleeting contagion of emotion from one person to another."

Simply put, if you are positive, kind and grateful, the people you encounter are more likely to feel the same. Amazingly, this appears to be true in virtual social networks as well as in real-life interactions. Communications research is finding that the emotional tone of online social network posts has an effect on the language of those who read the posts.

You may be thinking, if positive emotions like joy and gratitude are contagious, what about “negative” emotions like sadness or anger? They also spread from person to person, whether through a nonverbal cue like averted eyes at the office water cooler or online in a heated rant.

If you are struggling with negativity, it can feel like a lot to take responsibility for other people's feelings. But it might be helpful and even inspiring to consider that taking a moment to observe your behavior might reveal easy ways to use your emotional contagiousness for the good of your community. 

How do you make the most of the knowledge that your emotions are contagious?

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