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Joyful Living on Your New Year’s Resolutions? First Consider Your Emotional Residue

By Kay Van Norman January 14, 2022 Mindset

If you made New Year’s resolutions this year, was one of them to experience more joy? Take a moment to consider your resolutions. Whether a list of “always there” goals or brand-new ideas for positive change, chances are the desire for a more joyful life is at the core of most resolutions.

What if instead of setting high expectations for specific changes (complete with a high probability of failure) we consider simply focusing on crafting a more joyful life in 2022?

Cultivating Joy

Literature is loaded with advice on how to experience more joy. We know that cultivating a positive mindset is key to joyful living. Gratitude, optimism, resilience, forgiveness, and kindness all play a role in a positive quality of life.

And here’s the kicker – it’s important to cultivate all of these elements regardless of what’s happening in life. I’m in awe of people who go through challenge after challenge and remain open, loving, and kind. They have an innate ability to accept challenges without taking them on as personal affronts.

We also know that like attracts like – birds of a feather flock together – etc., so to experience more joy you can actively choose to spend time with the people in your life who are more joyful and positive.

What follows is that you must also bring a joyful attitude to the relationship. Are you consciously aware of what kind of “vibes” you bring to interactions with family, friends, co-workers, service personnel, and the general public throughout the day?

Emotional Residue

I use the term emotional residue to describe how every interaction with others leaves some kind of “residue.”

Many interactions are largely neutral, but if you’ve ever seen someone coming down the sidewalk and thought – “Oh good,” or “Dang, here we go” – then you know how positive and negative emotional residue works.

I experienced the impact of this residue while having a fun upbeat lunch with my 94-year-old grandmother. My aunt joined us, and things took a turn for the worse.

Her criticisms: “You’ve spilled something on your shirt – you should be more careful, turn up your hearing aid,” had a profound effect as I watched Grandma “get smaller” – more unsure of herself.

Regardless of my protests, Grandma was taking in this negative emotional residue and the overall impact was shocking. By the end of lunch, she struggled to make it the three blocks back to her home that had seemed an easy walk on the way to the restaurant.

Flying Monkeys

On the long drive home from Grandma’s, I started considering a Wizard of OZ reference to describe the experience: some people are like the good witch, sprinkling positive residue wherever they go, some people are like the bad witch sprinkling negative residue, and some people – quite frankly – are like the flying monkeys who sprinkle a heavy dose of anxiety and chaos!

I wondered if others had examined what I observed and found research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on emotional residue. Ultimately, studies describe it as “the lay belief that people’s emotions leave traces in the physical environment, which can later influence others or be sensed by others.”

The field of neurology holds additional research suggesting that the nervous system can pick up on chemical signals in a physical space ranging from fear, to disgust, to happiness that in-turn impact emotions.

All of this is fascinating, reinforcing my belief that it’s important to understand what you’re absorbing and projecting through personal interactions and physical spaces.

Habits or Choices

Joyfulness can improve when a person accepts personal responsibility for both their own wellbeing and for what they’re projecting to others around them.

Perhaps a resolution worth making is to consciously consider what emotional residue you’re habitually putting out there to friends, family, co-workers, service personnel, and the general public.

In a typical day, are your interactions primarily positive or negative, and does that change according to who you’re around? It’s curious to me how often I observe individuals who are like different people depending on their environment.

The friendly upbeat office worker who becomes sullen and irritable the moment they walk into their front door at home, or the typically introspective and kind friend who treats a waitress rudely for the least perceived slight.

Are these interactions driven by choice, habit, or something subconscious? I’m not sure but think that to fully embrace a joyful life it’s worth considering how to be more deliberate about the emotional residue of your interactions with others.

How would you describe the dominant emotional residue you project to others? How would you describe the emotional residue of the top three people you spend the most time with? Does living a more joyful life seem like an attainable goal for 2022? Please share your thoughts with our community and let’s have a conversation!

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The Author

Healthy aging expert Kay Van Norman is the President of Brilliant Aging. She serves on international boards, speaks and consults around the world, and has an extensive list of publications. Her Vitality Portfolio® model for lifelong health will be featured in a book by author Jack Canfield. Visit her at

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