Your Friends Can Make You Fat, Happy, Unhealthy or Lonely

Your Friends Can Make You Fat, Happy, Unhealthy or Lonely emotional contagion

Your Friends Can Make You Fat, Happy, Unhealthy or Lonely

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the contagious link between your friends’ emotions and your emotions, and your friends’ friends and your emotions.

First a quick update:

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How To Succeed with Effective Communication & Relationships
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Now, let’s talk about the link between your friends’ emotions and your emotions, and your friends’ friends and your emotions.

In 2007, a startling study revealed that having an obese friend can make you obese, if you are a man!

The Framingham Heart Study involved 12,000 people over three-decades and found that when a person becomes obese, the chances that a friend will become obese increases by 57 percent, siblings by 40 percent, and spouses by 37 percent.

“We were stunned to find that friends who live hundreds of miles away have just as much impact as friends who are next door.” – James Fowler, co-author and associate professor of political science at the University of California San Diego (UCSD)

As I will further reveal, your social network greatly impacts and potentially infects
you – it even affects your level of happiness, and therefore, if you want to change a habit or even an emotional state, you need to surround yourself with the ‘right’ people.

“We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends – that is, to people well beyond their social horizon.”
– Nicholas A. Christakis MD, James Fowler PhD

As part of the Framingham Heart Study, the researchers also identified that your social network affects your levels of happiness and even loneliness: “each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%.”

And the converse is also true – negativity by friends, family or coworkers also infects you.

Harvard Business Review blogger & CEO of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz, tells a story of what happened when he hired a new senior executive who infected his entire team with negative energy & criticism, even though this person claimed his motivation was “the wellbeing of the company”:

“Over time, he let me know he felt people were taking advantage of me. They didn’t appreciate how good they had it. I needed to be tougher…I began to feel more anxious and suspicious, and others on our team seemed more tense. The buoyant, productive atmosphere that had characterized our culture for years, even in tough times, began to seep away…Emotional contagion took hold. As the negativity spread, it drained the energy of our team and the company as a whole.”

This person negatively impacted the team and Tony who was the boss, who in turn, also infected his team. Eventually, Tony fired this person “because he’d lost the trust of our team, and because I didn’t believe he was capable of changing. The day I made the move, it was as if a cloud had lifted and the sun came back out.”

Have you noticed that when you spend time with someone who is sad, angry or unhappy, you too, feel the same way?

This is directly attributable to ‘mirror neurons’ – you naturally mimic or recreate the emotion in your brain and body and thus you feel it as it were your own emotion or experience. This is a highly beneficial response for survival and social connection – determining if the person in front of you is a friend or foe or when to express empathy or compassion. Mirror neurons also explains why therapists and others who work with clients who have experienced trauma also experience physical tiredness, emotional drain, low energy, insomnia, and depression.

Accordingly, if you want to change your habits, behaviors or emotions, it is critical to understand that the emotions and behaviors of your social network are contagious. Researchers of the Framingham Heart Study, Nicholas Christakis, MD, and James Fowler, PhD, also found that many emotions such as loneliness and happiness can be contagious; behaviors can be contagious because people demonstrate “flocking behavior” (individuals moving together as one) as it relates to behaviors such as drinking, smoking, overeating, voting, divorce and altruism; for example, if one person in a small company quits smoking, his co-workers who also smoke, have a 34 percent chance of quitting.

What habits do you want to change or replace? Which emotional states do you want to replace? Which emotions do you want to experience more often?

In my next newsletter, I will share more insights into the way that your social network can help you to change behaviors and emotions. Meanwhile, remember, that a habit is an automated response, and a goal-directed behavior is a conscious response, and, unless you engage awareness of yourself, your social networks and your environment, you will continue to operate on automated response and be infected by others’ emotional states and behaviors.

Notice how much of your own emotions are influenced by the emotional states of others. Whom do you need to release from your life?

If you need personal help and guidance to change your behavior, results and you wish to experience new emotions, book a one-on-one session with me. 

You can add to the conversation below.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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  1. […] Thus, you are influenced by the people around you and again this is supported by Neuroscience. The concept of self is driven by a part of the brain that is located between your eyes and is known as the “medial prefrontal cortex.” This is the part of the brain that gets activated when you are being introspective or reflecting on yourself. This is also the same part of the brain that gets activated when people are trying to influence you to think like them or do something like them. The point here is that you are influenced by what people say and think and do. Why would your brain be designed to do this or evolve this way? Why is this a critical function? We form connections with people and we create social harmony by sharing ideas and thoughts and bonding by thinking or believing that we are similar or actually being similar to others. We seek to conform or mold ourselves in order to belong or to be granted approval and acceptance. We also absorb the emotions of our social circles and culture. […]

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