Emotional chicken eggs - cheerful, surprised, devastated and depressed.

‘Catching feelings’? It’s a pop culture nugget that might make you think of swooning over a crush or get you humming a Justin Bieber tune. But let’s hit pause on the rom com montage and zoom in on ‘catching feelings’ through emotional contagion—the reality that our connectedness as humans is so strong that one person’s emotions can spread to others. Emotional contagion doesn’t stop at the transmission of emotions; it extends to the actions and behaviors that follow.

Of course, the impact could be pleasant or unpleasant. When unpleasant emotions spread, it can potentially lead to unease, stress, or worse. Conversely, pleasant emotional contagion fosters connections, amplifies feelings like joy and empathy, and enhances collective well-being through shared experiences. So how do we promote the latter?

Research indicates that gratitude can have an outsized, positive effect on well-being and relationships. Specifically related to emotional contagion, gratitude is a powerful tool for spreading those pleasant emotions. Expressing gratitude is prosocial behavior that remarkably sets off a chain reaction of positivity, enriching both our own well-being and that of those around us.

Gratitude in the Workplace

Whether it’s a heartfelt “thank you,” a note of appreciation, or a shared moment to acknowledge life’s little joys with others, gratitude has the capacity to shift the emotional landscape around us. Grand gestures aren’t necessary; authenticity and specificity are key. Here are a few more ways to express gratitude in the workplace:

  • Appreciation Emails: Send brief emails to express gratitude for high quality work. Be specific about what you’re appreciating and how it has positively impacted the team or project.
  • Intentional Acts of Kindness: Surprise your colleagues with small gestures, such as leaving a kind note on their desk or bringing in their favorite snack. These unexpected gestures convey appreciation and thoughtfulness.
  • Consistent Positive Feedback: Incorporating authentic and specific positive feedback often is a microstep that can transform relationships.
  • Engagement and Recognition Platforms: A growing number of platforms offer a centralized and organized online space where managers and colleagues can publicly acknowledge team members for their contributions, achievements, and prosocial behaviors.

Gratitude in the World (for the Greater Good)

Imagine the impact of a workplace where gratitude and positivity are abundant, uplifting colleagues and leading to increased productivity and a nurturing work culture. Envision a family where expressions of appreciation and love create an environment of emotional closeness and understanding. Now, consider a society where the simple act of spreading positivity fosters a more compassionate and empathetic world.

As someone who frequently travels for work, I’ve found that airports are not exactly the epicenter of peace and joy. With increasing delays and cancellations, the uncertainty of air travel creates a stressful environment for both travelers and airport personnel. To counter this, I’ve embraced a personal challenge: expressing specific and authentic gratitude as much as possible. I keep tiny gratitude cards in my wallet and distribute them generously.

Whether it’s the friendly food server or the dedicated gate agent who ensures I return home to my family, these small cards have become my vessels of appreciation. Each card features an uplifting quote, and on the back, I write a heartfelt note. The reaction is universal: faces light up as they feel seen and valued. Through these small gestures, I’m constantly reminded of gratitude’s power to transform my experiences and the days of those I encounter on my journey.

Even if you don’t travel often, think of all the incredible people you encounter in your day-to-day life:

  • The barista who provides a daily dose of sunshine.
  • The patient person who allows others to go ahead in line at the store.
  • The passerby who offers to take a photo for someone struggling with a selfie.
  • The kind soul who smiles and says “hello” to someone they pass on the street.

Next Steps

Let’s commit to expressing gratitude authentically and specifically in our workplaces, with our families, and in our interactions with strangers. These simple actions have the potential to serve as the catalyst for pleasant emotional exchanges. By choosing gratitude, we actively contribute to a more compassionate, connected, and emotionally thriving world.

With gratitude,

Photo credit: Tengyart on Unsplash


  • Lainie Rowell

    Bestselling Author, Award-Winning Educator, TEDx Speaker

    Lainie Rowell is a bestselling author, award-winning educator, and TEDx speaker. She is dedicated to human flourishing focusing on community building, social emotional learning, and honoring what makes each of us unique and dynamic through learner-driven design.

    She earned her degree in psychology and went on to earn postgraduate degrees in education. An international keynote speaker, Lainie has presented in 41 states as well as in dozens of countries across 4 continents. As a consultant, Lainie’s client list ranges from Fortune 100 companies like Apple and Google to school districts and independent schools.

    Lainie is the author of Evolving with Gratitude, the lead author of Evolving Learner, and a contributing-author of Because of a TeacherHer latest, Bold Gratitude: The Journal Designed for You & By You, is an innovative and interactive gratitude journal that empowers individuals of all ages to embrace their unique preferences and express gratitude in their own way. Learn more at lainierowell.com.