What if you were trained to look for the bad?
And what if your brain evolved to look for nothing but the bad?
Sorry… bad news. We have all evolved to look for threats (the bad) as a matter of survival. It’s what sells papers and keeps us riveted to the 24/7 news cycle. And a couple of today’s professionals excel at their jobs because they are terrific problem spotters. Consider attorneys and accountants.
Lawyers are far more likely, 3.6 times more likely, to become divorced or depressed according to Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness. He says pessimists excel at law, but that attorneys happen to view pessimism as prudence, and if you are paying a successful lawyer $300/hour, believe me, prudence is what you want.
So how do you combat this tendency to see the bad from taking over your private life?
There are some well demonstrated techniques that work, again from Martin Seligman and research backed by the army courtesy of your tax payer dollars.
1. First, and don’t groan, but truly, writing (the best way) or typing three positive things that happened for you daily near the end of the day works! They can be the smallest events, too–“Yay, my blog post idea came to me so easily today.” Or a large event “I got the job!” And then following up with answering the question “Why did this happen?” You cannot leave that step out because so often we fail to realize that our efforts led to the event, or our joy at the event contributed to others’ happiness.
Which leads me to…
2. Tell your good news to someone who will be happy, excited and supportive for you–or reciprocate when they share good news with you. It allows the goodness of the event into your brain, and to seep into your long term memory where it can be…wait for it…..
3. Savored! An incredibly effective way to shift out of a down mood is to recall a pleasant or happy event and tell someone else about it and/or revisit pictures of the event. (I just found pictures of my daughter at camp when she was ten years old with all of her bunkmates stuffing themselves into their cubbies for a hilarious photo.) This helps you to embed the good and forget the bad. Just another tidbit, planning for a happy event, like an upcoming vacation, is the same as SAVORING ahead of time!
4. And I saved the beast for last–no typo here. In today’s social media based culture, the overwhelming odds are stacked against most ordinary souls. The beast-like media urges you, even compels you, to make comparisons of yourself against others first and foremost in your mind. This is deadly to anxiety and healthy self image. Here’s the trick: Only compare yourself to those less fortunate than you. That’s right. Every time your brain wanders off the rails towards the “I shoulds” STOP. Consider the opposite, move to appreciation for the good in your life. And take a break from the constant social media diet. If you have any tendencies towards ADHD, it will help improve your ability to focus if you periodically get off the screen.
So considering at least three positive happenings daily, expressing your good news to others, and learning to savor events can ward off the tendency to look for the bad, especially if you happen to be in a career that a demands that skill. And stop comparing yourself to others. It only leads to unhappiness and the desire for more of what you think you don’t have.