Emotions Gone Viral (Some pretty amazing research in here!)

All information that we receive (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) is neutral information until we add value judgment to it.   Think about what that means for a minute.  It means that the things that make us angry, bitter, resentful, joyous, blissful, or amused all starts out as just the equivalent of a binary code in our head.

The implications of this observation are numerous, but there are two that really stand out to me.  First, everyone will translate that code into their own unique perception.  If you keep in mind the fact that the data is neutral, then it seems arbitrary to then assign absolutes to any of that data, such as “you are wrong,” “I am right,” “this is bad,” “this is good.”  I’m not saying we should stop evaluating our environment.  Perhaps we should simply stop assigning so much certainty to it.

Second, the meaning we assign to the data is absolutely voluntary, and therefore, so are our feelings about it.   If I decide “I don’t like what you did” instead of “what kind of person would do this kind of a thing?” then how I feel in response to a perceived wrong is completely different.   How would this shift impact the quality of our relationships?

This very simple concept, that we assign meaning voluntarily and somewhat arbitrarily to neutral data, means that we choose our reality.  We can choose judgment, anger, and cynicism or we can choose peace, acceptance and love.    We make these choices with all the information that flows inward.  Most of it we ignore, and the rest we judge as to its importance, value and meaning.  We make these judgments all day long without hardly a thought.

The implications of the fact that we define and create our own reality and emotional response is huge.  If you would argue that it only affects you, you would be wrong.  The authors of the famous Framingham heart health study (Fowler, 2008) also evaluated happiness over a 20 year period in the community of over 5000 Framingham residents.  Their results were surprising:  people surrounded by happy people were more likely to be happy.  This was true for up to three degrees of separation.  In other words, your happiness and mood can affect your Mom’s neighbor’s best friend.   Their mood affects three degrees of separation, and so on.

So, your perception and mood are both choices which you make on pretty much a constant basis.  Your choice affects not only those around you but those around those folks too.  We already know our feelings are contagious, and now we know that they’re actually viral.  So what emotions are you choosing, intentionally or not, to spread to your friends, family and community?  Today, pick an emotion you want to spread.  Make it a good one.


Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 337, a2338.


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at foodie2101@gmail.com or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

9 thoughts on “Emotions Gone Viral (Some pretty amazing research in here!)

    1. Sometimes it’s hard for us left-brained, concrete-minded folks to even envision these sorts of phenomena. It’s probably a no brainer to empathic people – they can feel people’s emotional energy.

      I sometimes delude myself that I’m hiding my emotions. Better to work on better management than hiding!

  1. Right on! This was (and is?) a tough concept for me to really get. My AA sponsor kept reminding me though. His version? Things are not good or bad, they just are. Now I see reactions so clearly in others. I get extra valuable lessons when I can see them in myself! Freedom! YES!!! 🙂

      1. I believe that trying to not judge things as good or bad is spiritually useful for me with respect to everything in my life. If I’m a rabid fan, do I get upset over a loss? If I’m a devoted worker with a grasp of the big picture, am I distraught over seemingly silly management decisions? “Poor” athletic performances? Kids or other people not at the maturity level I wish they were? Wild windstorms or ice storms? Many challenges come in life. I love something I saw recently:”This is my secret: I don’t mind what happens.” by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Happiest days! 🙂

  2. Just to add, as it sounds similar to me, this is the opening line of the Dhammapada (composed over 2000 years ago): “All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind, and suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.” It’s funny I think, that this type of understanding isn’t woven into the fabric of civilization. It’s rediscovered by every generation, again and again.

    1. What a great point, and a great quote. And we always like to think we’re so enlightened.

      Going to Egypt and Turkey and seeing the ancient ruins reminds me how little we have really progressed. In some ways we may even have regressed.

      Thanks for the comment!

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