Staying upbeat despite the moaners

Two long term studies of couples showed that partners’ happiness scores tend to become more similar over time.  That’s not surprising, but what’s alarming is that it’s the happier one whose mood declines to match their partner’s, while the more miserable person remains relatively stable. Many of us have probably experienced this at work too, where a negative colleague gradually brings the team down. How does this happen?

Depressed people are known to be more self-focussed, while happier people are more tuned in to what’s going on for the people around them. A cheerful person is likely to be acutely aware of the mood of the depressed person, while the depressed person remains in their own world. It’s easy to imagine the happier party going out of their way to try to cheer the other up, with relatively little success. Not only could this become demoralising, but over time a dynamic could develop where it becomes expected that it’s the cheerful partner’s job to improve the other one’s mood.

How can we ensure that we don’t get dragged down by a Sad Sack or Negative Nellie?  I have 5 suggestions:

  1. Remember that although we affect one another, we are each ultimately responsible for our own happiness.
  2. Give yourself permission to be happy even if someone else is unhappy. Sabotaging your own happiness is of no benefit to them.
  3. Show that you care about the person, with your words and actions.
  4. Think of those words and actions as gifts. Have no expectation that you will be rewarded with thanks or an improved mood.
  5. Ignore their negative comments and engage with any signs of positivity.

It’s all about filtering out the negative and boosting the ripples of social happiness!


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