Disease isn’t the only thing that’s contagious

It’s been a long time but I still remember the signs in the windows. Not in our window, fortunately, but in the windows of neighbouring families.
The sign that said “Quarantined–Scarlet Fever.” And everyone stayed away.
Sometimes if the man of the household was lucky, he didn’t get the disease. Then he could live in some private portion of the house and keep milking the dairy herd so the milk could be shipped to New York City while the wife and mother single-handedly looked after the portion of the house that was quarantined.
If neighbours wanted to help, they would set food outside the door and leave quickly before the door was opened, picking up the dishes long after the quarantine had ended.
Sometimes they would talk and motion to the quarantined neighbours through the glass of a closed window.
In an even earlier era, when my grandmother was a young woman, her family faced tragic contagious diseases of typhoid and diphtheria. There was no quarantine but the best-meaning friends and relatives were still afraid to come and help.
So great was the fear that when four teenage and young adult siblings of my grandmother died in a three-week interval, it was up to her father, John Nafziger, to bury his daughters alone. And to this day, no one is exactly sure where their graves are located.
Happily, medicine has changed in the last century, and we should give thanks every day for such miracles as pasteurization, vaccines, and antibiotics. But, personally, I still have a healthy respect for germs.
If you associate with a cold, you can catch a cold. That’s what you call a contagious disease. But germs aren’t the only things that are contagious. So are moods.
Have you ever noticed how you always feel good after associating with certain people, and bad after associating with others? Or have you noticed how some friends always make you laugh and others never do?
Have you ever tried walking across a campus or down a street smiling at everyone you meet? And then on the return trip, establishing eye contact but holding a sober face.
If you haven’t done it before, try it sometime and notice the difference in the number of happy, smiling people you meet. Because after all, a smile is contagious.
Contagion is always a two-way street–people can catch a cold from you or you can catch a cold from them. The same is true of moods. If your friends never laugh when they’re with you, it could be your fault or it could be theirs. But in either case, you probably aren’t going to feel spectacular when the occasion is ended.
By now, there’s little question about the importance of optimism and laughter. It’s commonly agreed that pessimism is bad for your health and optimism strengthens your immune system.
What’s more, even if optimism and laughter don’t make you healthier, they still make you happier. Much happier.
So why not give this business of contagion a little bit of thought. What kind of mood are you spreading to other people? And what kind of mood are they communicating to you?
Then when you’ve figured it out, associate with people who make you feel good and make sure you return the favour. That way you’ll both be happy, and prepared to pass happiness on to someone else.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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