How often do you play “misery poker”?
If you are unfamiliar with the term, misery poker, it’s when someone tells a tale of woe (“it’s just my life”) and another person says, “Well, if you think that’s bad, here’s what happened to me”…and they proceed to tell their tale.
Whoever tells the most misery-laden story wins. The truth, though, is that the telling and listening to the negative story means both people lose.
Julia Rogers Hamrick, author of Choosing Easy World, writes about Easy World (where you do want to be) and Difficult World (where you don’t want to spend your life and thoughts).
She says, “When you tell someone all the details of your experiences in Difficult World, you are asking to stay in Difficult World and even go deeper into it! That can only generate more problems. Not only that, you are providing an invitation to the person you're talking to to dive on into DW, too, which doesn't just harm them, it also serves to strengthen DW's hold on you as well! So best to keep your DW stories to yourself. Better yet, just let them go.”
Science is beginning to prove Hamrick right. Amanda MacMillan, writing on health.com, says, “You can actually catch a good mood or a bad mood from your friends, according to a recent study in the journal Royal Society Open Science.”
The new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that happiness and sadness—as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors like smoking, drinking, obesity, fitness habits and even the ability to concentrate—can spread across social networks, both online and in real life.
The study’s lead author Robert Eyre, a doctoral student at (England’s) University of Warwick’s Center for Complexity Science, says, “The fact that these negative feelings do spread across networks does have important health implications.
Thankfully, the study also found that having friends who were clinically depressed did not increase participants’ risk of becoming depressed themselves. “Your friends do not put you at risk of illness,” says Eyre, “so a good course of action is simply to support them.”
However, while you may believe that listening to their complaints is evidence of being a good friend you should understand that too much of that kind of caring is not good for you; it drags you down.
Here are two suggestions I’ve implemented with friends to lower the misery poker factor: In one case, my friend and I agreed that when a misery tale gets started either of us can ask, “Is it helping you to tell this?” If it is, ok. If not, the person stops telling the tale. In the second case, my best friend and I have a deal that each of us gets 3 minutes to complain and then the other person says, “OK, time’s up, what are you going to do about this?”
Either solution keeps the misery-wallowing factor to a minimum and changes the gears to a pro-positive focus.
And, just so you don’t think today’s blog is an example of misery poker, researcher Eyre notes, “The good news from our work is that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood—like exercise, sleeping well and managing stress—can help your friends too.”
Here’s the bottom line, hang out with happy people more often than sad, depressed and negative—because all those moods and attitudes are contagious.
If you have a friend who plays misery poker on a regular basis, share this with them.