Tuning into any news source these days can be an exercise in controlled terror – domestic terrorism, political unrest, wars, floods, famines, and suffering around the world. We see so much negativity and pain that we tune out, or worse, we become callused and desensitized to human suffering. In this positive psychology research article, you will learn about the mind science behind the scenes and why it is essential to tune into optimism.
For many people, even though we may want to tune out of bad news, we can’t. We seem to be drawn to it. Jacob Burak, in his article, “Humans are wired for bad news, angry faces and sad memories. Is this negativity bias useful or something to overcome?”, points out the following:
“Negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives…”
Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, in their book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, address this same issue:
“These are turbulent times. A quick glance at the headlines is enough to set anybody on edge and – with the endless media stream that has become our lives – it’s hard to get away from the headlines. Worse, evolution shaped the human brain to be acutely aware of all potential dangers…it literally shuts off our ability to take in good news.”
The world is a dangerous place, and there will always be bad news, but this does not mean that our awareness of danger or our experience with pain and suffering excludes, diminishes, or undermines our ability to enjoy those moments of beauty, happiness, love, and peace.
The authors share that we are hardwired for bad news, they actually explain this as a function of survival connected to our fight-or-flight instincts. It’s also rooted in the concept of “negativity bias” – positive experiences generally have less of an impact on our behaviors, thoughts and feelings than something negative. The negative experiences stay with us longer and seem to have more of an impact than positive experiences.
“Negativity Bias” may have been necessary for our ancestors to survive in the wilderness, but we have transferred the wild of the natural world to all aspects of our lives, including our business and personal relationships. We are so attuned to negativity that it can take a herculean effort for us to recognize the positive in our lives.
In the book Abundance, the authors site Zoologist Matt Ridley as stating:
“It’s incredible,” he says, “this moaning pessimism, this knee-jerk, things-are-going-downhill reaction from people living amid luxury and security that their ancestors would have died for. The tendency to see the emptiness of every glass is pervasive. It’s almost as if people cling to bad news like a comfort blanket.”
Thankfully, the authors also talk about ways we can overcome our hardwired instincts towards “negativity bias.” The remedy – Receive Praise. We have to receive positive reinforcement.
Jacob Burak even describes a formula for the amount of praise necessary to beat “negativity bias” called the Critical Positivity Ratio:
…‘critical positivity ratio’…devised the perfect formula of 3-6:1. In other words, hearing praise between three and six times as often as criticism, the researchers said, sustained employee satisfaction, success in love, and most other measures of a flourishing, happy life.
Receiving praise is important in all that we do. Unfortunately, all too often we create self-fulfilling prophecies within our relationships, creating roadblocks to success with our thoughts and behaviors. We offer negative reinforcement to those around us, focusing solely on what’s not working – the bad news. We anticipate failure, so when failure comes we simply state, “I knew this was going to happen.” We are so invested in “negativity bias” that we see bad new and failure as inevitable. This anticipation of failure can keep us from investing in or creating meaningful and lasting relationships.
Incidents in life can be devastating. I’ve experienced enough pain and loss to know this to be a fact; and I have no pretense that the world holds me in any especially high esteem. But I also don’t see the world as being out to get me. People yes, the world, no.
Please don’t misinterpret this and believe that I want everyone to move through life wearing blinders, believing only in the inherent goodness in people; that would be naive and dangerous. But I do believe in balance, and perspective, and hope, and an overriding sense that everyone deserves happiness, and beauty, and joy in their lives. I believe we should look for the magic moment in all things, whether it’s the magical opening of traffic on the 405 freeway, the arrival of a half full subway car at 14th Street & Union Square, the beauty of a sunrise, sunset, or that moment of quiet before the storm. Recognize those moments and appreciate them. Do not disregard them because they are short lived. Honor the moment, believe that it’s okay to enjoy life, resist the urge to spoil it with negative comments, and embrace a balanced perspective.
I offer a reminder of a greater vision of the world we live in. It’s a reminder in the power of Hope. Not to put a smiley face on pain and suffering, but as a reminder of life in balance.
Hope can be seen as kindness in action, offering positive reinforcement and praise in a world where those actions seem foreign. Hope is demonstrated through acts of kindness, hope is demonstrated through praise, hope is demonstrated with positive reinforcement. Hope is what defeats “negativity bias”.
As you look at the world and see the wars, famines, senseless slaughter, political unrest, and natural disasters, maintain your perspective, maintain your hope, and let kindness be the action you use to fight despair and the “negativity bias”.