The happiness bias

The theme of this month's SUCCESS Magazine is happiness.  In an article by Patty Onderko, she wrote the following: Research has shown that if most of our interactions with others in a day are positive or neutral, and one is negative, come bedtime, most of us will dwell on that one bad experience instead of focusing on the pleasant ones, even though they were more frequent. (from "The Science of Being Happy", SUCCESS, August 2014)

OK, all kidding aside, who else does this?  I absolutely do.

I have a basket full of positive interactions and observations every single day.  I get to work in a great office environment with some amazing ladies from the United Way of Fort McMurray and the other agencies who hang their hats in the Redpoll Centre.  Lots of awesome things are happening in my life including a creativity super storm, a healthier eating adventure, and a family that is amazing.  Yet.....

One negative comment, one random exhortation on Facebook, one snarky tweet, can annex my thoughts for hours and spin me into the vortex of self-doubt, anxiety, and unhappiness. Why is this, and what can I do to prevent it from happening?  Can I make an adjustment to curb the pandemic quality of negativity?

The article cites a suggestion by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., who suggests re-programming ourselves by "marinating in every good moment".  When good things happen - and they do, more often than you might realize - ponder how these random moments of wonder make you feel, and reflect on how fortunate you are to get to experience such things.

"Try to stay with this good moment for long enough - 12 or more seconds - so it transfers from short term memory to long term storage in your brain," wrote Onderko.

Some suggestions that might help you begin to supplant the viral negative bias with one that is positive:

Express Gratitude

"Catch someone doing something right," said Stan Taylor, GM of Q91 in Drumheller back in the 1990's.  It is one of the best pieces of leadership advice I've ever received.  If you see someone doing something good, whether at home, work, in the community or at your neighborhood grocery store, take the leap to acknowledge it with a kind word, a short note, a social media shout out.  You will make someone's day, and you'll begin to develop your happiness bias.

Navajo Prayer

Take 15 minutes to go for a walk.  As you consciously find the beauty in front of you, beauty behind you, beauty to your left, beauty to your right, beauty below you, beauty above you, beauty within you, something remarkable happens.  This is an adaptation of a Navajo prayer, an intensely simple exercise that will still your brain and warm your heart.

Negativity Triggers

Try to identify what diverts your energies from positivity to negativity.  Is it a person?  Perhaps it's what you are reading in the news?  Or possibly, it is comments that appear on your social media stream?  Once you are aware of your triggers, you can begin to mitigate their impacts.  For some people, it has meant shutting themselves off from Facebook.  For others, it means ending relationships or curbing the amount of time with people who might be stewing in their stuff.


If you invest time in writing down (or typing) observations about the good things, you will be cultivating your positivity bias.  I blog.  Others keep a diary or journal.  The act of capturing the good things that happen, is a time-honoured tool that works.  Give it a try.

You can please some of the people...

Abraham Lincoln said that "You can please some of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you can't please all the people all the time", or something like that.  I am going from memory on this one.

The point is - and this is a particularly hard pill for me to swallow - despite best intentions, you are going to piss someone off, unknowingly offend, or be viewed negatively.

"When you're causing a reaction, be it positive or negative, it probably means you're doing something right," said a mentor of mine.

I like to be liked.  One of my focus areas is to become more comfortable with the fact that some people are going to feel otherwise about me.  I'm still working on it.

We are all prone to going off the deep end and getting swept away from some negative shot across the bow.  It's going to happen, so you might as well develop some tools to mitigate the impact.

Take a deep breath.  Think of all the good things in your life.  Now go out and have an outstanding day!


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