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Is That Mood of Yours Contagious?
We know yawning is contagious, but how about your mood? What if the way you look at someone or the way you nod affects a person’s day? Studies have shown the littlest of things count.
by Barb Vitelli, Contributing Writer Monday, 07 March 2016
We all know how our moods affect the people close to us. But have you ever wondered about the impact these moods have on complete strangers? Is there a certain vibe we send to people when we’re out in the world, giving off good or bad mood signals? And do the people we “share” our feelings with send us something in return?
Not long ago, I was driving down a long, winding, two-lane road near our house. I used to like that road and enjoyed looking at the corn fields and the empty farm houses along the way, but after thirteen years of countless trips up and down it, the drive has become a bit of a bore.
On my recent trip down this road, a car approached from the opposite direction and, just as we met, I looked inside to see its driver in the middle of a huge yawn! I laughed at the joke of it; someone else agreeing with me that our road was less than exciting. And about a minute later, I was yawning just as wide as the other driver. In that split-second interaction, we had communicated without a word. I felt lifted by our exchange. It made me feel part of the bigger world of people working through their days.
I think a lot about the people I interact with every day in my community – people I may see only once in my life and others I see regularly, but only know their faces. I am often amazed at the power of their impact on me. Most of these interactions happen spontaneously and unconsciously. I doubt the people who boost my mood simply because they are in good moods themselves are even aware of their influence.
It happens in my car, in line somewhere, at a store, or in a doctor’s office. Occasionally the effect is negative. I bristle when a driver cuts me off or when someone is rude to me, but more often, the small things that happen are very positive, and they’re contagious! I get a tremendous lift when I pick up a positive mood from a stranger, especially if I’m under a personal and selfish cloud. I feel a little humbled when a car lets me into a busy merge, for example, and that makes me want to do the same for someone else. Besides the lift, I think of it as a good reminder to reach out a little to my fellow driver, line-waiter, or shopper and be nice.
… you’d be surprised at the power of a little kindness or a friendly remark to the person next to you.
Some people just want to get from A to B when they’re out there, preferring to mind their own business and close themselves off to others. But people who avoid contact with strangers may be missing out on some positive human interaction.
In the article “Hello, Stranger” from The New York Times (25 April 2014), Elizabeth W. Dunn and Michael Norton report on a behavioral study by scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, in which commuters on a train were asked to talk to the stranger next to them. The study then compared the experience with a second group which was told to follow standard commuter norms – keep to oneself, make no contact. The first group reported a positive experience – that “lift” I’m talking about – and felt better about their commute than the second group.
The authors explain, “Most people imagined it would be difficult to start a conversation. They estimated that fewer than half of their fellow commuters would want to talk to them. But in fact, not a single person reported having been snubbed. And the conversations were consistently pleasant.”
They add, “When the middle-aged woman starts playing Candy Crush Saga after she sits down next to the hipster scrolling through his iTunes library, they both miss out on an opportunity for connection.” A reader in the comments section to this article put it just right, “Positive interactions with strangers make you feel better simply because they remind you that there is good in the world. There is nothing simpler than being treated kindly and treating others kindly.”
Of course, street smarts are always necessary and common sense about personal safety is still the rule. But you’d be surprised at the power of a little kindness or a friendly remark to the person next to you.
For me, these personal encounters have become a special part of every day. To the tall mom at the grocery store who helped me reach the last jar of chicken bouillon and to the little boy walking with his mom who smiled and waved at me, you made my day and I will pass it on!
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