In these economically trying times, it is all too easy to lose yourself in despair. I am graduating from law school with a Master in Dispute Resolution at a time with record high unemployment rates. The future may be glum. It is a hard lesson to swallow no matter how often I learn and relearn it—life is not fair. When I fall into patterns of negative thinking, I find myself respecting even more the positive, inspiring, uplifting people in my life. When individuals use positive emotions to inspire people, it is called resonance. When individuals exude negativity, tension, and stress, it creates dissonance. In everyday life, we as individuals have the power to create resonance or dissonance. The choice is ours. This year as my new year’s resolution for 2011, I am making an effort to exude positivity in school, at work and in my personal interactions.
Scientists suggest that humans are wired in an open loop system. We are regulated in such a way that we rely on our emotional connections with others. For example, middle age men who endure tragedies such as the loss of spouse are less likely to die early if they have many other connections. We need other humans for connection. Likewise, we subconsciously engage in mirroring. This phenomenon is evidenced when two individuals engage in a conversation. After merely 15 minutes, the two are physiologically mirroring one another’s physiological rhythms. This phenomenon rarely occurs though when the conversations are neutral (void of positive emotions such as pleasantness or void of negative emotions such as anger or resentment). Even coworkers or classmates who sit in silence transmit emotions to one another. The closer they are, the stronger the emotions spread and are “caught” by the other. On the bright side, one Yale study found that depression spreads the least while happiness cheer and glee spread the most. Smiling and laughter really are contagious!
We must recognize the profound effect of emotions. Both personally and professionally, we must appreciate how our emotions impact those around us. Just as our negativity while working in a group project spreads to each team member, out excitement and enthusiasm for a work project may permeate through the office. The application of this principle is limitless. As a mediator, my genuine positive attitude and confidence in the process will inspire the parties to give mediation a chance. As individuals in positions of power, it is important to realize that leaders often set the general tone of the emotional environment. The same applies at home with loved ones—we must realize our attitudes and overall morale will be contagious.
Smiling and laughter and glee will spread to everyone around you. In stressful times or situations of conflict, why not be the person to bring a little sunshine into the room? It’s a new year! Bring a little more happiness to the world.