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The Bandwagon Effect

Are we going to think for ourselves?

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The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override.

The origin of the phrase comes from the use of a bandwagon, which is a float in a parade that encourages people to jump aboard and enjoy the music that is being played. The contagious effect of music and celebration ensures that large numbers of people will be jumping on. This principle was used from the 19th century in political campaigns to link candidates with the notion of having fun and to point out those who are not on the bandwagon as missing out.

Over time, it has come to be understood as a form of manipulation to influence people to join with a trend in politics or consumer behavior. The implication is that since so many other people are doing it, it must be good, or at least acceptable. This phenomenon does not allow for each individual to examine their particular values and beliefs to see if the prevailing trend is something with which they choose to take part.

The bandwagon effect has wider implications outside of politics and buying behaviors. In social psychology, this tendency of people to align their beliefs and behaviors with those of a group is also called "herd mentality" or “groupthink.”

For those of us who want to be free of manipulation of those around us so that we are free to make choices that will enhance our well being, becoming aware of the subtle influences that may be stealing our happiness is worthy of our time and attention.

We are all so dramatically affected by the people around us. If we are around people who read a lot, it stimulates us to read more. If we are around people who are politically aware, it urges us to pay more attention to political events and trends. If we are around people who eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, we are more apt to live a healthy lifestyle.

In my history, my mother and all my aunts Esther, Anna, Sophie, and Jean, and assorted cousins were very heavy. Believe me when I say, “I’ve been there, done that” rationalizing that at least I wasn’t as heavy as my relatives on both sides. It has taken a committed effort to be disloyal to the lineage that promotes eating when you’re not even hungry so as to not reject the love of the food preparer.

But the place that I have really had to apply myself has been in the domain of relationships. Not only has my family of origin on both sides been plagued by all manner of dysfunction, but so have many of my friends that I’ve palled around with have suffered through multiple disappointments in relationships as well.

I have witnessed deceit, lies, manipulation, infidelity, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, neglect, domination and submission games, vindictiveness, grudge-holding, and the martyr’s great strength of bearing it all. I’ve seen it all and experienced a great deal of it myself, fortunately, many years ago.

What I have learned from my own relationship and the frustration and disappointment of those around me is not to settle for so little when so much is available.

When we are surrounded by people who settle for less, there is sure to be a bandwagon effect. If we jump on that bandwagon, we start feeling like those on the wagon do. If they are resigned that this is as good as it gets and set their sites low, we will be encouraged in many subtle ways to set our sites low too.

If we make a conscious choice to seek out those happy couples that delight in their relationship, that contagious effect will rub off on us. It’s not necessary to cut people out of our lives who are settling for dismal relationships, but we must be careful to not allow their despair and hopelessness to affect us.

If we make a choice to seek out those who are thriving, their happiness will infect us. In direct ways, they will tell us their secrets to success if we only ask. They will show us how they take care of their relationship, learn to manage their differences with deep respect, clean up misunderstandings right away, go on date night, strive to regularly meet each other’s needs, tell the truth, connect intimately emotionally and sexually and celebrate their relationship.

The vast majority of the happy couples I’ve ever spoken with told me that they didn’t get lucky with their great relationships — they earned them. They are likely to assure you that there is a set of skills to be learned and it is so reassuring to know that the information is available. It’s inspiring to be with happy, successful couples.

Now there’s a bandwagon worth jumping on. It’s your choice.

- Linda

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