David R Hamilton reveals how your environment affects your positivity levels
Did you know that you can catch emotion just as easily as you can catch a cold? In fact, you can catch emotion a lot easier! Have you noticed that you tend to feel better around people who are in a good mood, and feel worse around people who are in a bad mood – perhaps people who are angry or frustrated?
This isn’t just because of what they might be saying or even how they are acting. It’s mostly because your brain is susceptible to what is called ‘emotional contagion’. Your brain detects how a person is feeling through their facial expressions, muscle movements and vocal intonations, and then it reproduces the same emotional state in you. This is why you feel happy around positive people and stressed around people who are in a panic. The part of the brain responsible for this is called the Mirror Neuron System (MNS). As well as causing emotional contagions, it is partly responsible for how young children learn through copying (or mirroring) what they see.
We can turn this to our advantage in two main ways. Firstly, we can avoid certain people who we feel stressed around, or at least we can actively avoid certain situations. Sometimes, it’s not so much seemingly stressful situations that cause stress, but the fact that some people in these situations get stressed and then we ‘catch’ their stress.
Secondly, we can choose to increase time spent around happy people. When we do this, we literally ‘catch’ part of their happiness. Take a few moments and think about which people and situations you feel stress around. Can you avoid any of these, even a little? Who do you feel happy (or happier, good, positive) around? Is it particular friends, or even work colleagues. Is it possible to increase your free time spent with them?
Have a go at the test on this page and measure your ‘Emotional Contagion Score’. The higher the score, the more likely you are to catch other people’s emotions.
Emotional contagion test
Answer the following questions with ‘usually’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’…
1 I cry when someone around me is hurt or upset.
2 I feel stressed, agitated or my body tenses around people who are stressed or angry.
3 I generally feel bright around happy people.
4 I feel easily swayed by Emotional contagion test the emotional environment around me.
5 I feel comfortable around positive people.
6 I feel irritable around angry people.
7 I feel that I pick up on people’s issues when I’m close to them. I can easily catch a vibe.
Scoring: if you answered mostly…
Usually – you experience a high level of emotional contagion
Sometimes – you experience a moderate level of emotional contagion
Never – you don’t tend to catch other people’s emotions
David is the author of eight books on how the mind influences the body, and is a full-time writer and speaker. He has a PhD in chemistry and formerly spent four years in the pharmaceutical industry. He left to teach others about the power of the mind in healing after being inspired by the placebo effect. drdavidhamilton.com