When I was younger, my Mom would say that we become who our friends are. So if I was friends with the overachieving scholars, then I would rise up to their level. But, if instead I was friends with the kids getting bad grades, skipping school, and smoking cigarettes behind them gym… then I would sink to that level. Now as any good teenager, I thanked her for her advice with an eye roll, but as it turns out she was right!
There is a well-known psychological phenomenon called emotional contagion. What this term refers to is the idea that we “catch” other people’s feelings (…in much the same way my three-year old catches every cold and flu virus that goes through her preschool).
What this means is if your friend is happy, their brightness will carry over to you. Likewise, if your friend is miserable. While emotional contagion doesn’t necessarily mean I would start skipping school and hanging out behind the gym if I befriend some people from that crowd, it does mean that their emotions — whatever they may be — will transfer over to a certain extent.
So what does this mean for our daily lives? Well, it means that we need to be selective when choosing who we spend our time and energy with. Happiness and joy in others will beget more happiness and joy in our own lives, whereas doom and gloom in others will beget doom and gloom.
I am not saying that if you have a friend going through a tough time in their lives that you should leave them high and dry for your own well-being. All humans go through cycles of emotion from happy to sad and everything in between.
What I am saying is that if you are spending time with someone who feels like they are constantly draining from you — happiness, time, energy, resources — it may be time to consider spending less time with them to prevent their negative energy from transferring over to you. Instead, choose to invest your time with those that bring you joy.
To learn more about emotional contagion, check out this Spotlight Session!