The Negativity Bias
June 11, 2012 in happiness
Research shows that we react to negative events more strongly and quickly than equally positive events. This principal is called the “negativity bias” and, as inconvenient as it is, is rooted in our survival mechanisms. Negative events may put our life at risk while positive events don’t, so we tend to focus more on the bad things.
Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Happiness Hypothesis” writes, “Feelings of sadness blind you to all pleasures and opportunities.” I can certainly attest to this quote. When I’m feeling somewhat depressed or down, I don’t see opportunities that may be right in front of me. However, when I’m feeling happy and inspired (which often comes from exercise), I’m overwhelmed with good ideas and can create opportunities for myself. Do you ever brainstorm an amazing idea when you’re depressed? I definitely don’t! It is more like a downward spiral of negative thoughts, and I’m blinding myself to positivity.
Since the ability to focus on the positive events is against our genes yet negativity blinds us to pleasures and opportunities, what can we do? Well, of course, we can work on our minds. Jonathan Haidt says there’s three ways to do so: cognitive therapy, meditation, and/or antidepressants. From my own experience, I have to say exercise and eating healthy has made a huge difference as well. John Milton writes, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.