Sunday, January 15, 2017

Negative and Positive

I realized recently that for the last year, probably longer, I’ve been focusing on burdens rather than joy. I want to change that.

Before Christmas 2016 I began reading ‘The Book of Joy’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.

John Cacioppo, Director of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, did some studies in the past in regards to negative brain bias. He’s on to other things now – studying loneliness – and I haven’t been able to find the dates of his negative brain research. However, according to a June 2003 article in Psychology Today, Cacioppo’s research at Ohio State University showed that people reacted differently to positive (e.g. pizza), negative (e.g. a dead cat) and neutral images (e.g. a plate). He found that there was more electrical activity in the brain in response to the negative images. Speculation suggests that being aware of danger (negatives) was and is a survival mechanism.

Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology co-wrote an article in 2001 called ‘Bad is Stronger than Good.’ It summarizes research that suggests bad events have more impact on us than good ones and that their effects wear off more slowly than good events.

A professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Teresa Amabile, found on analyzing diary entries of 238 professionals that the negative results of a setback at work was more than twice as strong as the results of a positive event.

In contrast, according to the on-line Harvard Mental Health Letter (Nov. 2011), “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” The article also suggests ways to cultivate gratitude (e.g. keeping a gratitude journal, mediating, thanking someone, etc.)..

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California has been conducting research on the science of gratitude for eight years. According to his website:

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is tough.

It is, according to Emmons, a “chosen attitude.” We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that we are the recipients of an unearned benefit.

I’m getting older. I’ve seen a lot of life, not all of it positive. I’ve watched my parents ageing. I’ve met many challenges. I’m feeling my own aging process. At times I get very tired of it all.  It’s easy to fall into the negatives. But I want to live the best life I can.

One of the stories told in ‘The Book of Joy’ is about a black man (Anthony Ray Hinton) who spent 30 years in prison. He was innocent and when he was finally freed he said many positive things about his approach to life. Here is one:

“I don’t walk around saying, ‘Man, I ain’t got a dollar in my pocket.’ I don’t care about having a dollar in my pocket, what I care about is that I have been blessed to see the sun rise.”

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