Brain trap #1: negativity bias or why our brain looks for bad stuff
Our brain is all about survival. It will do anything it can to protect you from danger (even if dangers and the world very much changed since the times our brain developed) – and it will do a marvellous job at that.
What about happiness?
Well, happiness is not an evolutionary priority…. it is down to you to take care of that part 😉
Now, brain is e evolutionary wired with many things that don’t do as a favour in terms of happiness – let’s call them traps and obstacles on our way to happiness – but our brain is wonderfully adaptive, and once we recognise the patterns, we can train it really well to avoid these traps.
There are seven traps on the way to happiness. We will be exploring them all throughout the next 7 weeks, starting with “grumpiness bias”.
The first trap : Negativity bias or why our brain likes negative stuff
Simply out, our brain is wired to give more attention to negative happenings around us than to the positive.
Reason? While still living “out in the wild” in the old times, anything that is negative could be life a threat to our life – a shush in the bush, a dangerous looking snake or an angry tribesman – and reactions to those things needed to be prioritised in comparison to the positive things – such as a delicious food or a handsome tribesmate.
Positive things were also important for our survival, but more so over longer period of time, as a way of building our resources to be stronger – getting necessary calories, bonding with others, reproducing – which made them equally important but never as urgent as the negative “threats”.
Having a “watchdog” for danger in the central place of our mind was a great system for that period of humanity – when most of the day would be peaceful, and an occasional danger would happen to which we wanted to give our full attention.
Yet modern life is a different story: there is a loooot of “bad” things jumping at us these days – from dramatic news focused on negative events from all over the world to annoying Facebook status updates that friends occasionally post – and while most of them are small and not at all impacting our survival, our “old” brain still keeps on looking for them and giving them waaay too much attention.
That means that in a day where equal amount of great things happen and negative things, we have a subjective feeling that there was many more bad things than good ones, simply because we put them more under the spotlight.
Similar goes for our emotions and interactions with others – it is considered that for each of the negative emotions that we experience, we need to experience more than double the amount of positive ones to feel happy overall.
And for interactions within a relationship, the rule of thumb is that we need as much as five times more positive “moments” or interaction than negative ones for a relationship to flourish!
Now, that might seem like a bad news – but actually it is just a fair warning that our brains need a bit of a “training” if we want them to work on our happiness.
So how do you experience more positive emotions, interactions or events?
Simply – you give them more of your attention, you look for them intentionally – and you train your brain into a habit of looking for positive things.
How to avoid the trap of negativity bias?
This are the ways in which we can work on training our brain against negativity bias:
• focusing on positive – working with our focus through asking ourselves questions such as “What is positive about this?”, “What can I celebrate today?”, “What made me smile today?“, “What are great things in my life?”
• work on strengthening appreciation and gratitude – especially on gratitude for mundane little things that are part of your life regularly – look for ideas under Pillar 8 – The power of gratitude
• working on developing optimism and optimistic explanatory style – check intro to that topic in this video on Learned optimism, video on Explanatory stiles or look for Seligman’s book Learned optimism
• sharing with others positive news and what good things happened to ask, and asking them about the same
• avoiding being “showered” with negative news by cutting down on media and overly negative people and conversations
• taking a long-term break from complaining (or from people who complain too much)
• journaling about positive experiences, as well as positive aspects of neutral or negative experiences
Just remember: whenever training your mind, do it like with a puppy 🙂
How about you?
Do you ever notice your brain being overly focused on negatives?
Which are your ways of training it for positivity – or which of the mentioned ways would you like to try out?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.
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