Is Unhappiness Contagious? Experts Say You Have More Control Over Feelings Than You Think
When I graduated from college, the first thing I forced myself to let go of (after chucking that super awkward campus ID photo), was the toxic friendships I’d held on to. Adulting is about growing up, growing wiser, and ultimately, leading your best life as your best self. Surrounding yourself with a social circle that builds you up is a huge part of that, but there’s a difference between toxic people and unhappy people. Unfortunately, life has plenty of downs to accompany the ups, and you might start to wonder if unhappiness is contagious, especially if you’re around someone who's going through a rough time, or someone who simply doesn't know how to find the positives day-to-day. The bad news is, yes, it’s possible for someone else's unhappiness to influence you. But the good news is that how you react to the moods of people around you is entirely up to your discretion.
According to Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, your unhappiness, like any emotion, is the combination of two things: a state of being, and a condition that you, and only you, have the power to create. In fact, per smartphone app Happify’s “The Science of Happiness” infographic, 40 percent of a person's happiness is controlled by their own thoughts, behaviors, and how they process things, while only 10 percent is a reflection of circumstance, such as the emotions and moods of those around them.
So is unhappiness actually contagious, even if the emotions of others only make up about 10 percent of your emotional state, or is the unhappiness of others something your mind either gives into or rejects? Well, as far as Cheryl Pierce, a certified high-performance coach, former registered nurse, and founder of Skinworx San Francisco and Ageless Beauty Skin Clinic, Inc., is concerned, it’s a little bit of both. “I would say our family and friends close to us can definitely feel our energy. It's something we cannot see, but it's there,” she tells Elite Daily. “Our emotions affect the people around us, and depending on their sensitivity, they may 'catch' how we feel."
Evidently, it works both ways: The emotions around you can definitely take a toll on your own. The trick is to not let other people's unhappiness influence your happiness. It's easier said than done, I know, but here are a few expert tips to reel in unnecessary emotions and, instead, wear a genuine smile through it all.
1. Set A Reminder On Your Phone That Makes You Smile
Whenever I'm in a particularly bad mood, my husband tells me to smile big. Sometimes I'll offer up a pathetic wince, but he makes me grin from ear to ear, baring all my pearly whites, and even if I'm faking it, the act of smiling usually does make me feel a little happier.
Sometimes, you just need that little push of encouragement to smirk off the unhappiness surrounding you, and Carol Tuttle, a teacher, speaker, energy healer, and best-selling author of Remembering Wholeness, says a clever way to do this is to set smile reminders on your phone.
In order to smile more often, Tuttle tells Elite Daily, "put a reminder in your phone for every two hours to prompt you to smile for no reason." The reminder could include a joke, a favorite quote, a happy memory, or you can even just remind of the exciting plans you made for after work. Whatever works, jot it down, and schedule it out.
2. End The Day With Gratitude
You've heard the rumors about misery, right? It loves company. So when your SO or co-worker is feeling down in the dumps, their unhappiness might just rub off on you. So if you're lying in bed one night, and you realize your train of thought has left the station on a rickety track, kill the engine quick and take the high road. In other words, when unhappiness starts to sink in, make a short list of the little (or big!) blessings in life that you're grateful for.
Tuttle tells Elite Daily that, to help you ward off unhappy thoughts or emotions, try to "end your day with gratitude" by listing three good things that happened in the last 24 hours. Of course, this is also something you can put into practice any time you start to feel a little low. Just open the Notes app in your phone, jot down a few positive thoughts, and continue on with your day.
3. Do Something You're Good At
Need a self-esteem boost ASAP? Do something you're good at to make you feel good. It might sound like a no-brainer, and maybe even a little bit like a cop-out, but according to David Brudö, CEO of the mental well-being and personal development app Remente, spending an hour or so busying yourself with an activity you know you can excel at will make you feel so much better about yourself.
"Whether it's running, drawing, writing, or making music, [doing something you're good at] can actually do great things for your general state of mind and self-esteem," Brudö tells Elite Daily. "Doing something you enjoy will distract you from anything that could be bringing your mood down, and it can leave you feeling confident and capable, banishing any thoughts of low self-esteem and encouraging you to try new things."
4. Write A Letter To Yourself, About Yourself
OK, I know, that sounds hella vain, but hear me out: Writing love letters to and from yourself can be awkward, so instead, consider this a documentation of your best self in ink. Emily Larson, coordinator for the World Positive Education Accelerator (WPEA) and executive director of International Positive Education Association (IPEA), tells Elite Daily that putting this exact activity into practice, by detailing a time you felt your absolute best self, could be a great way to identify your strengths and turn your mood around.
"Write a letter about a time that you were at your best — see if you used any of your strengths," she suggests. "Go back through and try to uncover any commonalities; these might be good clues to your 'well-being ingredients' or the things that help you flourish."
Keep this letter, Larson says, and refer to it whenever you feel as though your emotions are starting to shift. Store a copy at home, at work, even in your gym bag, so you always have it readily available whenever necessary.
5. Forgive Yourself For Giving In, And Move On
It's pretty amazing when you realize just how much control you really do have over your emotions, and that all it takes is one positive thought to change your entire mood. When you can do that, it's definitely a pat-on-the-back kind of moment, but if you can't, and suddenly you're falling down the dark rabbit hole with your best friend who can't stop sulking about how bad her life sucks, don't be too hard on yourself.
Under these circumstances, Silva says the best thing you can do is to first allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're feeling, but ultimately, let it go. "Accept that change can happen if the person a) wants it, or b) life forces it on them," she tells Elite Daily. "If you change your perspective and circumstances, you can change your outcomes."
6. Take Care Of Your Physical Health, Too
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, mental and physical health are "fundamentally linked." In other words, poor physical health can lead to poor mental health, and vice-versa. So in order to keep unhappiness levels at an all-time low, self-pampering is amazing, sure, but even just basic acts of self-care can go a long way.
Poppy Jamie, founder of the Happy Not Perfect app, would go as far as to say that your mental well-being is "crucial in avoiding unhappiness." She tells Elite Daily that following certain habits — like making sure you're clocking in eight hours of sleep per night, exercising regularly to boost endorphins, spending time outdoors to soak up some vitamin D, and eating foods high in probiotics to guarantee a healthy gut — can often be all it takes to bring balance back into your life and feel stronger mentally, as well as physically.
7. Recognize The Difference Between Your Feelings And Someone Else's
It's important to note that there is a difference between feeling for someone and feeling like someone. I know myself, and any time my husband is stressed out or upset, I start off feeling for him, but the more I'm around his pain, the more I start feel it, too. Empathy isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's wonderful to have compassion for others, but you also have to know where to draw the line, and how to identify what emotions are true to you, and what you might be picking up on from those around you.
Dr. Carolina Castaños, Ph.D, founder of MovingOn, the first interactive program designed to help people overcome heartbreak, says that, ultimately, being in touch with your feelings, emotions, and needs has to come first. "Recognize them and take care of yourself," she tells Elite Daily. "Notice how you feel, what you think, and how you behave. Realize if there are inconsistencies, and see how you can find a way to inner harmony."
In other words, know who you are and how you relate to situations. If your reaction isn't matching up with your true persona, you're probably taking on someone else's strife, and the best thing you can do is separate yourself emotionally so you can help your loved one cope efficiently.