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Emotional Contagion – Catching Gratitude

As the oldest possible Millennial (born in 1983), I’ve become accustomed to social media. I remember starting my Facebook account my senior year in college (back when it was still THE Facebook). Social media has great uses. I love posting momentous moments – like photos from my graduate school graduation, birthdays or reunions with friends. When I was in Brussels last November during the first lockdown following the mass shooting in Paris, I used Facebook to let friends and family know I was ok.

It turns out, seeing my friends’ happy moments may actually be improving my mood. Based on a study published in the BMJ (2008), a publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2011), showed that “emotional contagion” takes place via social media. In short, seeing other people’s happiness can increase your own happiness.

The opposite is true as well – that reading negative posts ends up dragging down your mood.

Friends will express empathy if negative posts are rare. But if that is the main thrust of most posts, friends will actually stop following you or unfriend altogether according to the paper by Sibona and Walczak (2011).

But how can this help you in the business world? One is by looking at other ways to boost your mood.


Via Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman wrote an article titled: “How Gratitude Can Help Your Career” (2015). In it he lays out how being grateful for who you are and what you have accomplished sets you up to achieve the changes you’ve set out for yourself.

Are you ready to give it a try? Here are some ideas to set you on your way to being more grounded at work and supported online.

Gratitude Journal

Get a blank or lined notebook. (I do recommend having a pen and paper journal rather than an electronic one.) Keep a journal for 28 days with 3 things each day that you are grateful for or that brought you joy. No repeats.

If you keep a gratitude/joy journal, let us know how it worked for you and what you experienced. What did you notice about your day that was different? Was it easy to do? What was challenging? What did you notice?

A Month of Thank Yous

I’m a sucker for a good thank you note. I love getting them. I love writing them. I love wandering through the store and picking them out. I love designing personalized ones online and then getting them in the mail. (And this isn’t just because I worked in the Political Department of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) for 3 years…)

So, now that you know where I stand, it will not surprise you that I loved the idea that I came across of sending out a thank you note each week. There are a few online vendors who have put it together, but you can do it on your own with whatever note cards you like.

The idea is to send out one note (or more!) each week to someone different. All you need is note cards, a pen, and stamps. Pop it in the mail on the same day each week.

If you do this, let us know the impact on you. Did the people you sent notes to respond in any way? Was it easy to do? What was challenging? What did you notice?

Letter to yourself

Describe what you like about yourself, what you’re good at, and the accomplishments of which you are proud. Have a friend mail it to you in a month or when you know you have a difficult deadline, project or life hurdle.

How did writing the letter feel? What was it like to receive it?

Let us know how it goes and if choosing to notice gratitude impacts your life.

Cited: Bregman, Peter. 2015. “How Gratitude Can Help Your Career.” Harvard Business Review. October 1.

Fowler, James H., and Nicholas A. Christakis. 2008. “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study.” BMJ 337 (December): a2338. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338.

Sibona, C., and S. Walczak. “Unfriending on Facebook: Friend Request and Online/Offline Behavior Analysis.” In 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 1–10, 2011. doi:10.1109/HICSS.2011.467.

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