Like many others, you may find that you tend to hold on to a negative experience long after the fact. In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, psychologist Rick Hanson writes that scientists who study this say that it seems to be due to the way the brain developed in the evolutionary process. 

It made a lot of sense to always be prepared for danger when you didn’t know if a predator was hiding behind a bush. So, the brain developed what has come to be known as a negativity bias. This negativity bias causes things we perceive as negative to stick like Velcro while good things do not–as though the brain had a Teflon surface, so to speak.

We still often tend to respond to everyday negative events as if they are life-threatening. This “fight or flight” response causes stress hormones to be produced even when what is happening is far from dangerous. Think of being in a traffic jam when you are late for an appointment or having a conflict with a loved one. 

These stress hormones can lead to elevated blood pressure, depression, heart problems, and other chronic health problems.

Learning to reframe negativity isn’t just a way for us to feel happy, it directly affects our relationships, our health, and our ability to make positive change in the world.

Photo by Hybrid

In a longitudinal study of marriages in the ‘70s, Doctors John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that if there was a balance of 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction in the marriage, that marriage was likely to be happy and stable. On the other hand, a ratio of only 1-to-1 was likely to indicate an unhappy relationship. 

I have extrapolated this information to help strengthen my positive self by striving to deliberately claim 5 good things each day to balance the negative in my life of which Covid is a large part at this time.  

“It’s how we face all the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become.” 

The BOOK OF JOY, by Douglas Abrams with Archbishop Tutu and the Dali Lama.

So how do we overcome negative bias in our lives?

Here are 5 ways to reframe your experiences…

1. Look for positive meaning in ordinary events of the day to create a positive experience.

2. Consciously recall times when an individual made an effort to please you—even though at the moment you found yourself annoyed by the person. This helps put irritations in a relationship into proper perspective.  

3. Remember times when you felt most loved, or valued.

4. Reframe a negative experience to find the positive in it.  

5. Eat a favorite meal, or share coffee with a friend—even at a distance.  

Consider intentionally creating positive moments in your days. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a long time, reconcile with a person with whom you have felt estrangement, affirm someone for the work they’re doing, affirm yourself, or seek out teachers who can help you understand life and live more freely.

Most importantly, hold on to the good in your life no matter how simple, and consciously nurture the “positive feel” of that good. Savor this good for several seconds, so that it becomes part of your brain’s neural structure. Doing this over and over re-patterns your mind to seek positivity over negativity.

Hope and Fear sit on a seesaw
and
neither one knows
what will happen next

Small Stones from the River, Kat Lehmann

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