Important fact: the five people we spend most time with have a major influence on our happiness. Happy people can boost your energy by 9%.

We all know this. We know when we spend time with positive, interesting people who reinforce and empower each other to be at their best, we come away feeling good about ourselves.

We also know that being with angry, mean, whiny, narcissistic people leaves us wanting to scrape off our own skin after being in their company for any time.

I read in a book once that in medieval Japan, for a guest to disturb the ‘Wa’ or harmony of a household was a beheading offence.
There have been times when I have found myself feeling a certain sympathy for this point of view.

The problem with these five people we’re talking about is that it pre-supposes that the wise observer of these people is somehow above the situation.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap, to see this from a reassuring ‘them’ and ‘me’ position, with ‘me’ naturally falling into the lofty category of clear minded observer of all those other ‘not me’ faulty people out there.

I have to work hard at being that positive empowering person, and avoiding causing negative contagion to the people I value. However, I have to watch out for that other less-than-wonderful persona that takes over every now and then when I get tired or stressed.

As long as I’m paying attention to what’s going on it’s easy enough to recognize. My throat gets tight and my voice gets that ranty vibe, louder, higher…
Time to exit the room fast, because I really don’t want to be responsible for a toxic mental contagion situation.

Most of us are familiar with the notion that emotions, positive and negative, are contagious to three degrees of separation.



Science suggests that this is caused by what they call the mirror neuron.
This causes us to copy, imitate the people we spend time with.

What this means that my emotion will impact on my friends;
my friends’, friends; and my friends’ friends’ friends.


It’s suggested that we keep away from they call: the Toxic Seven Dwarves: fear, envy, anger, anxiety, shame, sadness.
Hmmm. I hate to say this, but I think I’m at least one of these at some time most days.

However, I think I know what they mean. I don’t think it’s suggested that we should ignore people who are suffering or who have had horrible things happen to them and are naturally angry or sad or frightened.

Human compassion demands that we help and support people in times of trouble. I wish I was one of those wonderful people who seem to be able to do this gracefully and frequently.

I usually have to wrought myself up to visit sick or bereaved friends. It’s not a ‘feel good’ situation. It’s only the knowledge that I myself have been that sad, depressed person, and was greatly reassured and supported by friends who put themselves out to help me, stiffens my resolve and helps over-ride my feeble excuses.

But there are some people we really do need to limit time with. Very angry people for instance, can feel like being in a room full of flying razor blades. Or really bitter, mean people.

And then there are people who are only happy being miserable. You know the person who, when you say: “How are you?” there’s this sad little pause – and then – sad sigh - “You don’t want to know”.
Then they proceed to spend the next two hours moaning about their health, their relatives, their neighbours….

When you eventually succeed in amputating yourself from this sticky emotional swamp you feel totally vampired!

Temporal boundaries are really important when you find yourself in the company of toxic people. A quick glance at your watch and “Oh heavens, is that the time! I’m meeting my mother/lawyer/doctor/ lover in ten minutes. Have to fly! See you”. This works, as long as you insist on a rapid exit.

And then you can see them again, as long as you can meter your time so you still have your mental and emotional integrity intact as you leave.

I really believe that each one of us has a choice to increase light or diminish it in any encounter. It’s not easy. It demands a self-awareness that doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

But since I really want peoples’ happiness to be boosted by 9% when they spend time with me, and I’d like to think they’re not trying to bolt out the door when I’m not looking, I try to do a regular regularly scan of my body language, vocal tone and facial expression to reassure myself that none of my more anti-social sub-personalities are out there partying and disturbing the neighbours, and that I’m safe to be with.


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