Nobody is completely static when it comes to moods--you'll progress through joy, sadness, confusion, calm and a million other feeling combinations every single day. But is there any connection between our emotions and the type of people we look to interact with? According to science, absolutely--we're more prone to seek out people we love when we're feeling like crap.
A surprising interaction cycle revealed
In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers used an app to collect data on more than 30,000 people. The app would text the participants and have them respond with how they felt, their activity and who, if anybody, they were with. The researchers also controlled for potential mood influencers like having a preference for a certain time of day.
The researchers found a surprising cycle in our social interactions. The happier people were, the more likely they were to interact with strangers. But then, after time with new people, the participants usually felt less happy. And at that point, they tended to seek out the people they already were close to. Once the close interactions cheered the participants up, they went out and sought strangers again.
While the findings admittedly represent only a correlation rather than irrefutable causation, they appear to support the so-called hedonic flexibility principle, which says you can pick which goal to pursue based on how you're feeling. For people who are anxious or otherwise down in the dumps, the goal is to kick away the unpleasant emotions and feel good again. But if you're happy, then you feel like it's OK to tolerate a little more grossness (e.g., the frustration of having to explain yourself because someone doesn't automatically "get" you) or take some risks to move forward.
4 massive implications for business professionals
First, if time with friends and family pumps you up and makes you more willing to interact with strangers, then it's a great idea to prepare for events like networking or interviews by surrounding yourself with individuals you already trust.
Secondly, if you have to be around strangers, then it's important to recognize that it's normal to feel a little dragged down afterward, even if you consider yourself to be an extrovert. It might be best for you to schedule those interactions for later in the day so you can more quickly get to the familiar people who can rejuvenate you. If that's not possible, then make sure you have some other techniques on hand--for example, meditating, having a bite of dark chocolate, listening to upbeat music--that can give you a lift. And if being around strangers is most of your job (for example, you do sales), you might need to work harder through the day to fight the mood decline that likely will happen over your shift.
Third, when you're hiring, realize that the new employee naturally is going to perceive their new coworkers as strangers for a while, even though they're already technically on the same team. The way you embrace and encourage the new hire might influence how dramatically their mood drops, and it's not necessarily a sign that you've made a mistake in fit if they don't look like a smiley ball of joy at the end of a training day. Happiness might go up as the new hire forms trust-filled relationships, meaning that, the sooner you can get them to authentically bond, the better.
Fourth, the researchers note that these tendencies need to be studied further among people who already have mental health concerns like depression. It might be that spending time with strangers could make symptoms of those conditions worse. That's critical for leaders to understand given that, according to the World Health Organization, 264 million people suffer from depression globally, costing the world economy a whopping $1 trillion per year. By creating a workplace that's more conducive to good mental health to begin with, companies might be able to make it easier for workers to handle the stranger-based interactions their jobs might require.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway, given the above implications, is summarized best by Maxime Taquet of University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School, an author on the study.
"This suggests that happiness is a resource, rather than the ultimate goal you have in your life."
Don't squander it.