The signs are the work of Massoud Adibpour, 29, of Columbia Heights. He and friends have spent the past four Monday mornings holding them up in front of rush-hour traffic, to a cacophony of honks. They stood on the Mall at 14th Street, the best place to catch commuters coming across the bridge from Virginia to begin another bleary-eyed Monday. Passing bicyclists dinged their cheerful bells. Pedestrians gave a thumbs-up. Unmarked cop cars blew their cover by flashing their lights. Drivers of 18-wheelers yanked on their air horns, loud enough for a tugboat. Most people smiled.
But no one smiled more widely than Adibpour and his friends.
“No one wants to go to work on Monday, so we wanted to brighten people’s day,” he said. “D.C.’s really stressed out, so I wanted to spread a little bit of happiness in the city. I think it can go pretty far.”
He aimed to get 350 people to honk, beating his group’s previous record of 307. “If people aren’t honking, they’re waving or smiling.”
“I’m in love with you!” a driver screams out to Maggie Cannon, 24, who is holding “Honk if you love someone.”
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Adibpour is a human Bobby McFerrin song repeating in your head. He emanates positivity, enough to make Woody Allen types wince. He speaks in the motivational mantras of the posters that hang in elementary school classrooms, tossing off cliches like “The sky’s the limit.”
With his signs, and without knowing it, Adibpour has engineered what psychologists in the science of happiness call a “positive intervention.”
Yes, there’s a science to happiness, and it has its own math: For each negative encounter in a day, people need five positive interventions to keep up their happiness quotient, says Caroline Adams Miller, an executive coach and author of “Creating Your Best Life.”
But for that dynamic to work, people have to respond positively to the intervention. “It is a voluntary behavior or thought change that takes you from either negative to neutral, or neutral to positive, or positive to even more positive,” Miller said. In other words, scowl at Adibpour and his sign-toting friends and you’ll have to put up with the rest of your miserable day.
And even though the group’s signs provide only a brief moment of cheer, people shouldn’t write off the good effects, Miller said. A sign that jogs feelings of gratitude or contentment triggers a mind-set that will encourage good feelings throughout the day.
“Those fleeting moments . . . add up throughout the day to generate other positive emotions and offset the negative ones,” Miller said.