How the Day Does You In

Suppose you wake up in a fairly decent mood. To prolong the good feeling you might try to think pleasant thoughts, meditate, recite affirmations, or practice relaxation and guided imagery techniques. For the time being, you will have "managed" anxiety, stress, or anger.

But no matter what you do to fortify yourself, within just a few minutes of your typical day, it's all gone. Any pleasant state of mind you've achieved gives way almost immediately to whatever negative emotions and stressors occur around you, like the resentful look on your spouse's face or a scowl of an aggressive driver or the frown of a co-worker.

If you feel yourself getting caught up in them, you might try to shut out the stressors that swirl around you with pure will and determination. You think to yourself that you will not let it effect you.

 

To the extent that you successfully shut out the negativity and stress around you, you become less sensitive to the world you live in, more self-obsessed, and more in need of meditation, affirmations, and anxiety-stress-anger-management to deal with the effects of shutting out reality; you become like a camera taking pictures in a mirror.

 

With either reaction - absorbing or shutting out - your emotional well being is controlled by all the people you meet. In obvious and in very subtle ways, all the people you meet make you into something you are not.

  

Absorbing and shutting out are battles you simply cannot win. That's because emotions are far more contagious than any known virus. We owe our survival the vast contagion of emotions.

From the beginning of our time on earth, humans were tribal; our emotions evolved for social influence. Our innate sensitivity to one another's emotions gave the tribe 24 pairs of eyes, ears, and nostrils to sense danger and opportunity. If you see or hear something of interest or possible danger, your emotions trigger a like response in me, even though I didn't see or hear what you did, and the same emotions get triggered in the person next to me, who likewise didn't see or hear what you did, and so on, as the interest or caution spreads instantly through the tribe.

 

Emotions were the primary means of communication for millennia before we had language, and they remain the primary means of communication now, although now we try to fool ourselves and one another with words. Think of how you relate to people in conversation. Is it primarily by the words they use or the feeling you get when they speak?

 

Of course the innate interactivity of emotions - I call it the Web of Emotion - does not dictate that we're merely "herd animals." Although our emotions are highly contagious, our thoughts are far less so; we are more capable of independent thinking than feeling. We have the ability to interpret our emotional responses to the world. I can decide, like everyone else in the tribe, whether the thing that triggered your interest or caution is interesting or anxiety-provoking to me. In other social animals, the few who develop this ability to interpret and decide become the leaders of the pack.

 

The trouble began for humans when we grew into a sense of self and, worse, an ego, and began to interpret our emotions as having some meaning about the self and the ego rather than the tribe and the world around us. We began to misinterpret the subtle emotional transmissions of daily life by incorporating them into the movies about the self we play in our heads, to the point where we are no longer aware of them existing outside our heads. Thus we go through the day clueless about how greatly our emotions are controlled by the people we meet.

 

If You Don't Make It Better, It Gets Worse