“Everything is energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want, and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. It is physics.” Widely attributed to Albert Einstein, this remark almost certainly is apocryphal, but the idea that like attracts like is as old as the hills. There is little doubt that expectations affect others as well as oneself. We know that human thoughts are energy; we’ve been measuring them for decades with electroencephalography. The question is whether our thought energy is sufficient to influence other people and even other things. And the answer is yes.
What does any of this have to do with emotional contagion? A lot. More than 100 years ago, the philosopher Immanuel Kant defined happiness as getting what one wants. This is pretty simple, but I would amend it slightly to getting what one expects. As Psychology Today writer Christine Meinecke said, “For all of us, managing expectations is key to happiness, peace of mind, relationship, and life satisfaction.” Not only that; research also shows that happiness is contagious. Professors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler of the University of California in San Diego have carried out research on the impact of social networks on happiness. They found happiness really is contagious, and it doesn’t really matter how many friends you have but how happy they are and how close to you they live. What’s more, they found that the merriment of one person can ripple out and cause happiness in people up to three degrees away. That is, if you’re happy, you increase the chance of joy in a close friend by 25%; a friend of that friend enjoys a 10% increased chance, and that friend’s friend has a 5.6% higher chance of feeling joyful. So your level of happiness can affect the happiness level of people around you—even people you don’t know.
In like manner, your ability to spread unhappiness is just as clear. Psychologists and biologists even have a name for this: emotional contagion. They claim unhappiness spreads not just because of obvious psychological reasons, but because of primal evolutionary ones. This is an important dynamic for many reasons, ranging from choosing one’s friends to running a department. Why? Because organizations are increasingly relying on the work team model to produce and create value. Some consultants are even urging employers not to spend resources to create happy employees but on removing those who are unhappy. The fact is, when employees are happily (and thus productively) engaged, running the business is much easier.
However (and most fortunately), happiness is more contagious than unhappiness. Data analysis by Christakis and Fowler from the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study indicated that “happiness is more contagious than unhappiness…Each additional happy friend boosts your good cheer by 9%, while each additional unhappy friend drags you down by only 7%. So…if happiness and unhappiness are spreading reliably, then on average, you’re going to be catching happy waves more often than you catch sad waves.”
Social science researchers describe and measure emotional contagion well. Quantum physicists explain how it works. Quantum physics teaches us such words as “entanglement” (interlaced), “contagion” (spreading), and “resonance” (reinforcement from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object). What this means is simply that all of us are part of the “others” and what we perceive and project affects the next person, which spreads as waves into the environment. We affect not only ourselves but everyone else. So hang around happy people and you will be happier. Hire happy people and your organization will be more productive. Take responsibility for your thought energy (mood?) and you will help others merely by being near them.
Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN
Executive Editor, Professional Outreach
American Nurse Today
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