Emotional Contagion

Remember that science experiment, the one where a simple potato can produce enough electricity to power a light bulb? That is me in a nutshell. To light up, I need potatoes. I need friends, I need laughter, I need smiles and I need connection. 

The concept of emotional contagion is hardly new, and an idea that I absolutely believe in. It is that wonderful feeling you get when you catch a smile or how you feel after meeting a friend for lunch. For me, it is so pronounced that I start to feel actually hollow, and then after a quick conversation and a shared smile, I feel my entire body start to flood with warmth. In a recent article in Time Magazine, Sifferline suggests, ‘A 2008 study reported that when a nearby friend is happy, happiness can spread among that person’s social group and even increase your own happiness by 25%.’ I think we all have experienced the joy of a happy friend, carrying it to our next meeting, our next encounter. 

One of the things I miss a lot are my professional connections in local government, I have been very fortunate to knit together some extremely kind, considerate colleagues that I love connecting with. Right now, for example, I am rabid about learning about the pitfalls of procurement policy and one of my more hilarious memories is when I drug along one of my favourite people for a study tour at a conference. Sharing a laugh as my hand shoots up like a first grader with – excuse me sir, one more question? And then of course, excuse me, one last question?? The magic is eye contact, the beginning curl of a smile. One other person in the world recognizing my enthusiasm with amusement.  

It feels especially strange as the Christmas season settles in; I feel extremely empty right now. We are in our second wave of the pandemic, anxiety and concern about the future flood my inbox. It has never felt more like we need a community hug, a way to support one another in person and unfortunately that is not going to happen for a while yet. 

I’m trying to walk with people as much as possible for meetings, to fight that pull of being disconnected from the community. Replacing a zoom call or an email with something more meaningful. If I am honest, I am always and forever chasing that feeling of emotional contagion. A walk around the block can be just enough to light me up. 

I find comfort from visual reminders that the world will go back to normal soon, that once upon a time you could share a bus ride with a colleague and chase two things at once; knowledge and connection. And that doing both of those things are normal. And Ok. And wonderful. 

In my office I have a photo wall of people, moments that are and were meaningful. Some moments that I wish would go on forever, some that just make me smile. Occasionally when I feel that we may never return to normal, I catch myself and remember that we are actually hard wired to lean into one another. Not away. This is going to be a brief moment in time. Not forever. 

In this photo, my friend Mark and I are having an enormous laugh at the suggestion that I am trying to convince him to leave Rossland and move to Fernie because nothing could be further from the truth. What we talk about when we find a minute are ski towns, ski culture and local government. We are both aficionados of everything that goes along with mountain culture. Live music, craft beer, chair lifts and politics. When we sit together, I only see my friend Mark. I forget he is a CAO and I sure hope he sees me as Ange. 

In the world of local government though, when a Mayor and a Chief Administration Officer become friends, it can cause a bit of excitement, a select few wondering and whispering – with affection- if I am in trying to land myself a new CAO. 

When your two worlds constantly collide, the optics of both narratives, the only thing you can do is laugh, and laugh we did. 

I am the eternal optimist, and I know I’ll be chasing friends down at a conference soon to share an experience, help me digest issues that impact local governments and also simply, just to sit with. 

In the meantime, I’ve learned a lot about myself in this pandemic and how important connecting is. My advice is that if you are able to, get off of zoom and go for a walk. It’s not quite an airport belly laugh with a friend, but it’ll do until we get back at it.