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A while back, I walked into the lobby of a hotel that was serving as the headquarters for a major national youth sports competition. Athletes from all over the USA (and a few individuals from other countries) had assembled for the biggest water polo tournament in the world: USA Water Polo’s Junior Olympics. The mood was infectious. Children and adults alike were walking around with big grins on their faces, proud and happy to be there. If you’d walked into the hotel as a total stranger, you couldn’t help but have left with a smile!

The diffusion of positive mood was palpable, readily evident in the voices and actions of the hundreds of young aquatic athletes in the lobby and meeting rooms.

It was no accident that the hotel staff were friendlier than usual, too. They had been infected by the organic spread of positive energy. Frankly, I was sure that I could see taxi and bus drivers leaving the hotel with happy faces. I am convinced that their subsequent passengers also “caught” a little dose of the emotional gold flowing out of this glowing epicenter.

It is well known, both by observation and by scientific research, that mood is contagious, spreading between individuals. What interests me most, though, is the internal chemistry that reinforces and escalates this emotional epidemic, because mood is also contagious within our own personal space.

The term mood congruence is used to describe mood’s influence over both perception and memory. Your mood influences your perceptions of external stimuli. If you’re feeling happy, you notice other happy sights and sounds with greater intensity than you do sad ones. At the same time, when you’re feeling happy, you somehow recall more joyful memories than you do sad ones.

These two phenomena tend to make mood self-reinforcing. Sadly, the same is true for negative mood, which sometimes has far-reaching negative consequences. But let’s stay focused on the positive.

As each individual becomes a radiating center of positive affect, they infect those around them. This is what I term mood diffusion.

So, each of us has a choice in the role we play in society. We can choose how to affect the energy of our surroundings. We can choose to give energy or to withdraw it—and both will have far-reaching consequences. Choose wisely!