Saying that attitudes are contagious may sound trite, but we don’t have to look far to see evidence of their power. We hear comments like, “She lights up a room.” “I feel better just being around her.” “He brings out my best self.” “Her ‘can do’ approach makes me want to try harder.”
We’ve all had experiences in which we’ve made similar observations. These are examples of evidence that attitudes are, in fact, contagious. How we feel, how we relate, and how we communicate can have a powerful effect on those with whom we interact.
The potential for attitudes to influence is a source of power we can tap in our work with students, colleagues, and others. However, we need to be authentic in our emotions, open in our approach, and generous in sharing our attitudes.
It’s also true that the influence of our attitudes can be positive or negative. They can pull people down or lift them up. The choice is ours. Of course, we tend to accomplish more by creating hope and sharing possibilities than by spreading fear and sowing doubt. Let’s explore five attitudes worth spreading regardless of the context or our role.
First is optimism. Optimism injects energy and draws attention to possibilities and opportunities. Optimistic people see the future as inviting, filled with choices, and bursting with potential. While not everyone necessarily will share unbounded optimism, being around an optimistic person tempts us to see the “upside” of situations and consider the good things we might experience.
The second contagious attitude is curiosity. Curiosity leads us to explore and keeps us at the leading edge of learning. Curiosity might be thought of as a virtual radar to notice and explore what’s happening around us. Being around someone who asks interesting and smart questions can quickly build an urge to wonder and explore.
Third is confidence. Responsible, grounded confidence grows out of experience and a belief in our skills. It relies on the understanding that we have the capacity to meet and overcome challenges with good strategy, through smart effort, and by drawing on resources around us. Confidence provides the reassurance necessary to take responsible risks. Confidence spreads when we believe in the worth, talents, and potential of those around us.
The fourth attitude worth spreading is empathy. Empathy involves our listening, responding, and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Empathy is a search to understand and an effort to build a connection. Genuinely caring for someone is an act of respect. Empathy lifts rather than pities the condition of another. Experiencing empathy can lead to a desire to show the same respect and care for someone else.
Fifth is gratitude. Gratitude is an appreciation for what’s good, even when things are bad. We can feel grateful in the context of tragedy or triumph. Acting on feelings of gratitude can lead to greater patience, decreased depression, increased wisdom, and higher levels of generosity, patience, and perseverance. Gratitude focuses our attention and emotions on others rather than being self-centered. Gratitude can lead us to move past quick, superficial expressions of thanks to pause and feel the emotion of the moment. Being in the presence of someone who practices gratitude is comfortable and refreshing and often stimulates a wish to nurture the same feelings in others.
Of course, these five attitudes aren’t the only attitudes that are contagious. However, sharing and spreading these attitudes will not only make us and others feel better, but they can also make us more successful.