Two headlines… Small Boy Saves the Life of Elderly Woman… and… Car Thieves Steal Twelve Cars in One Night. Which one sells more papers or gets more internet clicks? Most likely, the one about the car thieves. Why? Because of something called the negativity bias.
The negativity bias, according to Wikipedia, “is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g., unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.” Basically, negative experiences or encounters grab our attention more heavily than positive ones. Traumatic events stick with us longer than positive ones. Positive compliments are not remembered as long as negative ones. A whole day of goodness can get nullified by one negative encounter.
Seems odd, and not too helpful, for us to allow these negativities to override the good that should leave us feeling happier and more fulfilled. And if I tell you that we might be hardwired to be that way, it gets even more confusing. However, if you think about it, it could make sense. Our ancestors had to put a lot more emphasis on avoiding predators, adverse environments, and all the things that could end their lives. Their brains had to pay more attention to the negative stimuli than the positive as it might have been a matter of life and death.
There is a lot of research to support the fact that negative events and negative news have a greater, and longer lasting, impact on us. The media has capitalized upon this, which can be clearly seen these days. They present one scary, fear-stimulating, negative story after another. They know it grabs our attention. Advertisers have also taken advantage of this negativity bias. They will often present their products in a way that influences you to avoid a negative outcome (“Do you suffer from dry, scaly skin???”) rather than seek a positive one. And the medical establishment also capitalizes on this negativity bias by scarring you into action by highlighting all of the bad stuff that will happen if you do not comply with care (“Without this surgery you might never be able to play with your children again.”)
You need to be aware of this negativity bias, as it requires some effort and strategy to defend yourself against it. In case you haven’t noticed, the world around us is all about the negativity. This has pushed us into political and racial divide, loss of trust, fear-based behavior, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, despair, and depression.
Simply knowing that the negativity bias is a real thing is a great start. Combating it is the next step. First, and foremost, turn off the news. A lot of it is inaccurate, and almost all of it is negative (by design). Second, pay closer attention to the good around you. Take a moment when something good happens at work, or you notice something positive in your life, and take it in for a minute or two. That will help it stick longer and make it more memorable at the end of the day. Third, start doing some form of meditation, deep-breathing, or other mindfulness technique. They can be done in short amounts of time, and there are apps that can help (I do ten minutes of meditation each morning, and I use the Calm app to help me). Forth, do a gratitude exercise each day. I know you’ve heard that a hundred times, but you are still not doing it. Write down three things that you are grateful for each morning or evening. It is clinically proven to offset that negativity bias.
The negativity bias is a real thing, but doesn’t have to dictate your life. If you want a fuller, more fun, and happier life, take action against it, and make all those positive things happening in your life each day more impactful and more memorable.