Herald Journal Columns
Dec. 5, 2005, Herald Journal

Infection is a beautiful thing

By LIZ HELLMANN

An admirable goal in life is to spread infection.

In fact, the more infectious people who surround you, the better.

Infection can boost your state of mind, emotional well-being, improve concentration, and promote a longer lifespan.

Before assuming this author is infected with a case of dementia, hear me out.

I’m not talking about spreading the green, slimy germs that ooze from one surface to the next, waiting to pounce on the next weak immune system they encounter.

Nor am I suggesting you surround yourself with sick people (unless of course your friends and family are already suffering from the sniffles, in which case, you should not dismiss them – just tell them to keep their distance and resume popping vitamin C pills).

In a world ridden with incurable and curable diseases, it would be ridiculous to encourage more. I don’t want people to be sick, merely infectious.

This infection worthy of passing along carries with it no headaches, fever, or upset stomachs, although it might complicate breathing for a short time, and one should not operate heavy machinery while under its influence.

The infection is laughter.

When someone is laughing, people around them usually start laughing, too, or want to laugh.

We’ve all heard the old saying “laughter is infectious.”

Some people are just jolly all the time, and lift your mood every time you see them. (Even the word “jolly” is kind of fun to say.)

Just think of the jolly man who will be visiting many towns and stores this Christmas season. It’s hard to be crabby around a big round man in a red velvet suit trimmed in white fur.

But if laughter is infectious, then why can some people laugh at a situation that makes others scowl?

Are some people just born pessimists?

The answer jumps out at me from the depths of online surfing.

While searching for a place to honeymoon, I have read my share of travel reviews.

Some resorts I have read reviews about have horrible service, rancid food, tiny beaches, and poor customer service. But other ones have beautiful sprawling beaches, great grub, top-of-the-line employees, and impeccable customer service.

The decision seemed simple, until I realized both reviews are talking about the same resort.

So whose side will I choose?

Does the first person merely have a pessimistic streak and would find fault in the most flawlessly appointed resort? Or are they completely honest and forthright in their expectations, unwilling to sugarcoat their experience?

If I trust the second opinion, I run the risk of following the leader to a terrible resort because of Mary Jane Doe, who has never uttered an unkind word, true or untrue, about anything in her life.

It all becomes clear to me. I am a control freak, who cannot handle ceding control of anything I consider important.

However, there is no way I will ever be able to determine, with certainty, where to go, unless I go there myself.

For each scathing review of a resort, there is also a gushing one.

Unable to admit that I have no power over one of the biggest purchases in my life thus far, I decide to scratch my own meaning into the circumstances.

The reviews of the resorts do not necessarily reflect the resort, but could be an introspection of the people who wrote them.

The pessimistic reviews might factually cover the stale swordfish inhaled at one of the restaurants. However, the ranting and raving about a 10-minute delay on room service suggests an intolerable vacationing disposition.

Pessimism, by definition, is a doctrine that all things become evil or that evil outweighs the good in life.

If people are born pessimistic, they must see more bad than good in everything, otherwise they will have to abandon their whole life philosophy, and no one wants to do that.

On the other hand, at times, optimistic reviews can be so diluted that people rave about vacations in which it rained for a week straight.

So, should I board my plane ready to do battle with the evil forces that surround me, or happily disconnect myself with reality in order to never feel the sting of disappointment?

Neither option appeals to me.

Instead, I will quench my need for control over the situation by facing the facts.

I cannot go to the resort before booking my vacation.

I can choose to have a good outlook on whatever happens, knowing that the only thing I can control is whether or not I have a good time (even if largely independent of surrounding circumstances).

But staying connected to reality, I can also choose to stay away from the swordfish and not visit during the rainy season.

I can also become infectious, in the way that won’t affect my passport status.

Meaning, if I am caught on a bus of tourists whose own whining drones out the low din of the mosquitoes they are incessantly complaining about, I can hope that my good mood will eventually affect their bad one.

I refuse to become part of the evil that they think is outweighing the good.

And, if optimism and laughter can’t hush those biting pessimists that would ruin my vacation. . .

I will politely ask them to join me for dinner and suggest the swordfish.

At least they won’t be able to spread their infection from their room.


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