Ask any Emerson student how they’re doing today, and chances are you’ll be able to predict his or her answer. Some are tired, others are so stressed they haven’t eaten yet, and still others can’t help but remind you that they still have so much to do. The individual responses vary, but the sentiment behind each one is the same: negativity.
Sometimes it feels like Emerson College is afflicted by a plague of complaints. We’re never rested enough, the lines at the Emerson Cafe are always a little too long, and lists of unread emails stack up before we’ve even finished breakfast — if we have time for breakfast at all. Our favorite pastime seems to be airing these grievances with fellow students. Ask us how it’s going and we’ll look at you with that wild, over-caffeinated look in our eyes, iPhones in our hands, and tell it you straight. Then we’ll flood your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds with updates on the never-ending stress and #struggs of being an Emerson student.
What we never stop to consider is how this negativity might disturb Emerson’s campus as a whole. It only takes one sigh or complaint for your bad day to barge in on someone else’s good one. Multiply that possibility by the number of cranky all-nighter survivors stomping down the street, and it’s almost an epidemic. When we’re already gridlocked in these dreary winter months, why add another shade of gray?
We’ve been told all our lives that a positive attitude is contagious. We’re built up to believe that looking on the bright side can powerfully influence the outcome of a situation. But what the glass-half-full cheerleaders never mentioned is that pessimism can be just as transmittable. Adam Kramer, a data analyst at Facebook, investigated this phenomenon with a 2011 study of posts from English-speaking members of the social network. Kramer analyzed the posts of about 1 million Facebook users and their friends and found that those who used negative words like “sick” or “vile” directly influenced their friends’ posts. According to Kramer, a post with pessimistic language can cause friends to use similarly negative language on the site for the next three days. It seems a negative attitude is not only catching, but lasting. And exercising restraint to curb those infectious, gloomy thoughts could make everyone’s day (or week) a little better.
Plus, medical researchers have new evidence that adopting a positive attitude might be associated with longevity. A recent study from Duke University suggests a strong connection between positive thinking and heart health. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, asked over 2,500 men and women questions about their outlook on their cardiovascular health. After 15 years, researchers found that patients who had the most positive outlook were 24 percent less likely to have died from heart disease than those who saw the glass half-empty.
But findings like these have been scrutinized by critics who claim that these studies don’t account for other factors that may have influenced the health of participants. They argue that the supposed benefits of optimism are more likely the result of balanced diet, regular exercise, healthy cholesterol, and blood pressure levels or other concrete aspects of well-being.
In response, proponents of positivity cite a University of Pittsburgh study published in 2009 that kept tabs on over 100,000 women starting in 1994. Researchers found that after eight years, positive-thinking women were 14 percent more likely to be alive than their pessimistic counterparts — and this statistic stands independently of other factors that may have affected the women’s health, such as blood pressure, smoking, drinking alcohol, or physical activity levels. The result is a legitimate backing for the benefits of looking on the bright side. If positive thinking can so dramatically affect human health, imagine the way it can improve our campus climate.
Above all, we must remember to put our exhaustion, our stress, and our Red Bull-fueled existence into perspective. We may run ourselves into the ground before Wednesday night — but we’re doing it because we’re passionate about our education and our student groups. That’s why we came to Emerson in the first place. We’re up all night, on campus until the T shuts down, and treating library cubbies like our bedrooms, but we’re dedicating each one of our precious hours to the things we care about. Our calendars and coffee cups keep filling up, but we’re learning how to make a living doing what we love. If we’re going to deprive ourselves of sleep, this is the way to do it.
In an essay, Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson states, “By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves.” Granted, he put that thought to paper back in 1877, but maybe he was onto something. Perhaps, if we reframe our exhaustion and stress through a sunnier lens, we’ll find that we’re having a pretty good day, after all. Some good old-fashioned positivity might be just what we need to make our home-sweet-stretch of Boyslton Street a little brighter.
Caroline Praderio is a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major, and a Beacon columnist. Durham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.