Growing the Right Attitude

How do you feel when one of your co-workers is in a bad mood? How does that one person’s negative attitude affect the social environment?

Does their attitude feel almost contagious?

Do you start to feel in a bad mood, too? Maybe ironically you become upset because you feel like they shouldn’t be in a bad mood? Do you gossip with other co-workers about the person who’s in a bad mood, complaining about them and their negative aura, and maybe you start to dig up other memories of times when they were upset or frustrating to work with? Do you start feeling upset with other co-workers, too, besides that one person? Maybe you begin to feel exasperated with work overall? Do you worry that maybe you did something to upset the person in a bad mood? Or do you just laugh at the person who’s grumpy, because it seems silly to be in a bad mood?

Maybe none of these apply to you because you’re able to ignore unpleasant people, but I would guess that for the most part, people generally notice a few of these hypotheticals either in themselves or others, especially in work environments where the employees must work together in close quarters. Maybe you want to think of a different scenario instead of work, such as a family function, where one person is in a sour mood and it affects everyone else in their own ways.

What I’m trying to get you to reflect on here is how one person’s mood can affect a group’s mood. Do you notice as the bad mood ripples throughout others?

Being in a bad mood is not fun. I would guess that most people in a bad mood would say they didn’t want to be in a bad mood. (They would probably say they can’t control their mood, too; which is both true and false.) But also, being around someone in a bad mood isn’t fun. Especially if you’re required to be around them, or even work with them. It can be so unpleasant that the bad mood rubs off on you, too.

Throughout my life, I have been a relatively moody person. I have memories of being pouty as a child, or angry when I didn’t get my way, or short with people who bothered me while I was upset. To some extent, this is expected in children, but at what point do we learn to be more accountable for our outward displays of emotion and how we project our emotions onto other people?

I am no advocate for suppressing emotions, or hiding how we feel. I believe it is very important to experience our different emotions, because it helps us learn about our feelings and where they come from; then, this information helps us grow and work with our emotions rather than against them. So the point of this article is not that we should never be angry or frustrated or sad.

This is about taking responsibility for how we act and realizing that our attitude affects other people. We can feel frustrated, fine—-but when we snap at our co-worker to take out that frustration, then we’ve made a mistake in how we handle that frustration. Because chances are, that co-worker is now experiencing negative emotions, and maybe that person doesn’t know how to handle their frustration, either, and takes it out on a customer. See how far this ripple travels?

I work at a restaurant, so my job is crazy stressful by nature. Unless you have restaurant experience, it’s challenging to convey all the complicated dynamics at play in this line of work. And there are many, many moods throughout that building at any moment—-both workers and customers, servers and cooks, hosts and dishwashers, management and employees. Many attitudes.

Attitudes are so contagious! When I interact with a guest who is friendly and conversational, I walk away still smiling and happy from that moment; my excitement carries over into my next task. When one employee is audibly annoyed and upset, many others start complaining and rolling their eyes. When someone is in a good mood, it changes the social climate for the better. When someone is in a bad mood, it changes the social climate for the worse.

Recognizing this has helped me maintain a better mood at work… Whereas, when I was serving tables, I used to get so riled up about annoying things and feel the need to show off how upset I was, now that I’m older, I try to hold myself to a higher standard and coax myself out of bad moods. (Plus, now I’m also a manager, so I recognize that the attitude of a manager really affects employee morale.) Sometimes I get so annoyed at work, it’s like I want everyone to know “I am annoyed! I am frustrated! This sucks for me!” I feel angry that the same problems keep happening even though I try so hard to prevent them from happening at all. But then I ask myself, “Do I really want to be that person that brings everyone else down? Is that really the legacy I want to leave behind for the day? Is being a tyrant really going to solve these problems?”

It’s really hard to think yourself out of a bad mood. Negative emotions are so easy for us to feel. They’re easy, thoughtless emotions that pop up without much prompting. And we have the tendency to want to cling to these negative emotions, because we feel some dark power from them, or because we like to feel like a martyr, or because it’s easier than letting them go. But we can experience an emotion without acting on it or letting it control us, and the more we actively try to turn around our moods, the easier it gets.

It’s about the seeds we water. In Buddhism, we talk about the different seeds that exist in our store consciousness. Our store consciousness is the entity within us that holds the seeds for all the emotions we could possibly feel–jealousy, joy, anger, gratitude, love, spite, etc. All the time, we are watering seeds that exist in our store consciousness, and then they grow and enter into our mind consciousness, becoming stronger. The mind consciousness is like the store consciousness, except this is the more active entity within us where emotions manifest and become strong, and they begin influencing us more. Sometimes we water the wrong seeds within us, and after time, it becomes a habit to water the wrong seeds. Habits are difficult to change. When you’re used to feeling a certain way after a particular stimulus, you don’t even think about the emotion that manifests from your store consciousness. However, there’s something beautiful in recognizing that you don’t have to water the wrong seeds. You don’t have to invite those unpleasant emotions into your mind consciousness.

Let’s say someone steps on your foot. You feel that flare of heat spark in your chest, as you anticipate the formation of anger inside you. However, let’s say you choose not to water that seed. You acknowledge you’re feeling angry, but then you decide not to grow that seed any further. Instead, you water a seed of forgiveness and the feeling of anger coils back to the store consciousness. This is great practice, and it is a beautiful, empowering, respectable exercise that you can do for yourself to improve your life. Once you start practicing watering the right seeds, those right seeds themselves will become your habits. So that one day, after years and years of practice, someone steps on your foot and you automatically forgive them. You barely even have to try, at that point.

I love that visualization because it’s not about getting rid of negative feelings, it’s just about not letting them control your actions. You don’t have to numb yourself, you only have to be deliberate and mindful. But it does take practice.

Right now I’m still in the practicing stage, myself. I’m slower to anger, but I still get angry at work. Sometimes I still get in a bad mood and want to cling to that angry feeling. But then I think about the hearts of the people I work with and how I don’t want to be the reason they have a bad day. I have to hold myself accountable and respect others more than my desire to show off the struggles I’m dealing with.

But let’s return, for a moment, to those first two paragraphs where I asked you to reflect on how you feel when someone else is in a bad mood, because there’s a second big point I want to make with this article. I think most people’s automatic response to others’ bad moods is to default to a bad mood themselves; their instinct is to let that bad attitude be contagious, because we’re empathic creatures. However, I also want to remind you that we don’t have to feed into other people’s negativity. When people act upset, the true cause of their upset could be any number of things, and a lot of the time, their negative actions are a result of personal suffering. So while it is certainly not pleasant to be around someone with a bad attitude, also remember we shouldn’t take the actions of others personally, and that we have our own ownership over our emotions. If someone near you is angry, you don’t have to let that affect your day. You can live in your own little bubble of positivity, and if you really feel up to it, even try to reach out and open up your heart to that angry person to help them navigate their anger, through questions like, “How do you feel?” or “What are you thinking about?”

That’s another thing I’ve learned by working at the restaurant: Have a good attitude, but also, don’t let others’ bad attitudes make you have a bad attitude, too. When a co-worker would be in a bad mood, I would let myself be so annoyed by their attitude. But now, I realize that that’s silly; I can simply shrug if someone else is being rude to me. It’s so freeing to realize that you don’t have to feed into other people’s negativity; you can let their bad energy glide right off of your own positive aura.

The other day, I watched a documentary on Fred Rogers called Won’t You be my Neighbor? Towards the end of the film, they played a clip of Mr. Rogers giving a commencement speech, in which he said something like… “Think of the people who have smiled you into smiling…”

Bad attitudes are contagious, but so are good attitudes. When someone smiles at you, don’t you feel like smiling, too? Unless you are so inundated in your own self-pity or bad mood, when someone is nice to you, don’t you feel nice, too? If we pay attention to the good feelings that exist inside of us, it can encourage others to feel joy and gratitude, too.

So, basically what I’m saying with all of this, is that we should practice being accountable for our own emotions by watering the positive seeds within ourselves. Be kind, and be your own hub of good energy.

Smile others into smiling. Let’s start that ripple instead.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to browse more articles about self-love, emotional growth, and empowerment on Slanted Spines, check out the Mindful Living page!

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