Hey Joe - how's it going?
Well, I managed to wake up today, so I guess no complaints.
So busy. I'm just swamped and I feel like pulling my hair out. SUCH long hours. But its good.
How's your better half?
Well, her mom's been sick, and the kids are driving her nuts with all of their activities, but she's hanging in there.
Got any plans for a vacation this summer?
Vacation... what's that?! We are going to go to a wedding maybe, but that's about it.
And the fact of the matter is that convos like the one above don't really reflect reality. Research by positive psychologists Shelly Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that people actually have three times more positive experiences than negative ones. A 2012 article in Scientific American interestingly breaks down why we're so negative all the time, and I thought I would share it with you. There are two main forces at play here.
First, the negativity bias suggests that people tend to give more weight to the bad stuff. Think about getting up in the morning... you're laying there in your comfy bed, all snug and warm, drifting in and out of a really crazy dream involving an exotic beach, some Victorian guy named Alfred, and ten chickens en route to the Detroit airport (oh wait... maybe that's just me). Then the alarm goes off, you begrudgingly get up, and then stub the crap out of your toe on the metal bed leg. Chances are, getting back to the zen of the pre-alarm clock moment is going to be nearly impossible, and you'll spend the next hour feeling like you've got a bad case of the Mondays.
[Aside: You may argue that the throbbing toe has more to do with its lingering ill effects than the negativity bias, but feel free to substitute a non-physical injury example: you spill your coffee, you can't find your keys, your kid has a tantrum, you forget your lunch, the radio is only playing commercials and songs by Nickleback, etc., etc. All of that junk sticks with you, much more so than the fact that your coffee maker is pre-programmed to greet you with a warm aroma, that your car just passed inspection with flying colors, that your kid said "I love you" a dozen times before getting dressed, that you have a $10 bill in your wallet to treat yourself to lunch, and that you secretly love belting out How You Remind Me when driving alone in your car.]
Second, apparently people live their lives on a contraption (metaphorically speaking) called the hedonic treadmill. When good stuff happens we increase our expectations to match, and at our new equilibrium we don't feel any objectively happier than we did before. Going back to my getting out of bed example... imagine you get a great new pair of slippers. The first time you wear them, you're all like, Wow. The slippers are sweet! But when you put them on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th morning... they don't make you feel as enthusiastic any more. You probably don't even notice your 5-day safety streak in the toe stubbing department. You have expectations of how those slippers will perform, and they don't make you as happy any more.
So, what to do? As the Scientific American article tells us, there are a number of studies that suggest talking about the good stuff makes us feel good again.
Writing down and talking about what we're grateful for is good for us.
A long, long time ago, I had a very enthusiastic high school literature teacher. She would come into class, and at the top of her lungs, yell, "EVERY FIBER IN MY BEING IS PULSATING WITH ENERGY!" As a 15-year old, I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. Especially when she made the class yell it too. But I'll share a deep, dark secret folks - I think every time I yelled that, I smiled. And felt a little bit more energized and focused. She was on to something, for sure.
This week's good news challenge tasks me/us to talk about the good. You can start on Facebook where it's safe and easy, or by just writing the day brightening stuff down - both big (family, faith, friends) and little (good french fries, bluebird on your shoulder, co-worker's compliment). Then, when you're feeling brave, try talking about the good stuff face-to-face, and see what it's like to build relationships on sharing joy. My guess is that it's kind of a different experience - one that feels much more authentic.