Linda: The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby people do something primarily because other people are doing it, even when those actions are inconsistent with their own beliefs and values. 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, this term 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. Those who make that assumption are unlikely to notice or concern themselves with the discrepancy between their original values and their newly formed bandwagon view.

The bandwagon effect has wider implications outside of politics and buying behaviors. In social psychology, the tendency of people to align their beliefs and behaviors with those of a group is also referred to as a “herd mentality” or “groupthink.” While following the crowd isn’t inherently problematic, it depends upon where the crowd is going and whether in doing so, we are at risk of losing connection with our own inner compass. Doing so also makes us more susceptible to manipulative efforts of others, rather than to trust own judgment.

We are all so affected by the people around us, probably to a greater degree than most of us realize. Humans are, after all, social and interdependent creatures. We can’t help but be concerned about where we stand relative to our relationships with others, particularly in regard to our sense of security. The degree to which we feel included in the group, the more secure we feel, and following the group feels more secure than being an outlier. In my own history, my mother and all my aunts Esther, Anna, Sophie, and Jean, as well as assorted cousins were overweight. 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.

What I have learned from my own experience and the frustration and disappointment of those around me is to not settle for scraps and crumbs when a banquet is available. When surrounded by people whose expectations are limited and whose attitude is pessimistic, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Low expectations and pessimism are ways that many of us try to minimize or prevent disappointment.

Ironically, these attitudes make disappointment more likely, even inevitable. While they may prevent an experience of loss or letdown, they deny us the kind of hopefulness and motivation that the creation of healthy relationships requires. If you hop on the bandwagon of pessimism, cynicism, and resignation, you’re guaranteed not to achieve what you truly desire. If you do make the effort, you might succeed. This is not to suggest that you should always be able to cheer up and see the sunny side, no matter what. We have to be willing to risk feeling discouraged or disappointed in order to  stay on track, rather than trying to play it so safe that we take ourselves off of the playing field.

If we make a conscious choice to seek out those happy couples that delight in their relationship, that contagious effect may rub off on us. It’s not necessary to cut people out of our lives who are settling for dismal relationships, but it’s important to be careful to not allow their hopelessness pull us into their orbit. We can choose to seek out those who are thriving, they are usually happy to share some of their secrets with us.

Don’t be surprised if even the happiest couples have some war stories to tell that you didn’t expect to hear from them. Chances are, you’ll hear that despite what you may have thought, most of them didn’t just ”luck into” finding the perfect mate, but rather they had to roll up their sleeves and deal with the challenges that are present in nearly ALL relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask them probing questions or remind them that they don’t have to answer if they’d rather not. Questions like: Did you ever think that you may have chosen the wrong person? Did you ever think that your situation was hopeless and consider divorce? Have always gotten along well? Do you still have arguments? What’s it like to have a great relationship?

There are some bandwagons that are definitely worth following, like the one whose theme song is; “ All relationships take work, but it’s worth the effort!”

Now that’s something that I can get behind, or rather hop on!