A Positive State of Mind (Part I): Why Negativity Is Not Healthy

by - February 12, 2018

wellness, wellbeing, health, mindfulness, inspiration, calm, lifestyle online magazine, inner quiet, positive state of mind, positivity, motivation

In the first part of this Positive State of Mind series, we're going to explore the unhealthy outcomes of negativity, the science behind it and why having a positive outlook is so important. When calls for being more positive are crowding the wellbeing world, we rarely learn about the intricate workings of our brains behind it. It's understandable if your immediate reaction is to either try it out it as the newest trend or instantly resist it as something that's "not for me". There's your aunt who believes that the secret to a happy life is to ignore and hide from everything that feels wrong (an absolutely maladaptive response to positivity!) and your friends whose witty cynicism gives you all the reasons why positivity is for people with more free time and better pay checks.

Our passion is to show you something different. Having a positive attitude is not illogical or unrealistic as some of you might think (I was one of you, too), but it's more like a journey to a healthier, more grounded you. That's why I've compiled evidence-based research that is going to change your mind.


Experiences evoke emotions in us. Positive experiences create positive emotions and so negative experiences induce a negative reaction - you get the picture. However, often it isn't that straightforward. The more stressed we feel, the more internal and external pressures we have - whether it's yours or others' expectations you're struggling to meet, eventually it builds up to a point where our brains don't register that many positive experiences. You could be in a continuous state of worry about the future or your life, filling your mind with doubts and lack of self-belief, questioning your decisions, or simply having the predisposition that everything is too difficult and problems loom from every corner. Your brain gets used to acknowledging mostly the negative experiences and enters into the so called negativity spiral of emotions. You end up noticing the negative experiences more, while the positive expectations that you used to consider "realistic", don't seem so realistic anymore because you've involuntarily trained your brain to think that way. We call it a negativity bias, the negative emotions can stick with us and linger longer, while the positive ones are more fleeting.

First, let's make it clear that the negativity bias, like everything else in our brains, has its purpose. It's useful for our safety and survival in order to detect danger and learn from our past. However, it can get multiplied in our daily life, especially with having such easy access to negativity being broadcasted throughout our culture. Indeed, often the media, social networking and the attitudes of others around us can ultimately do more harm than good. According to Dr. Rick Hanson - a leading psychologist in the field of wellbeing, living a life and seeing the world through the negativity bias can bring us feelings of resentment and upset, growing pessimism, unhealthy thinking and behaviour, low patience, amplified frustration and also low self-esteem. His research on positive neuroplasticity revealed that the more we focus on positive experiences - the greater inner strength we cultivate due to new brain connections being formed all the time. Positivity might not be something all of us were born with, but it's something we can learn.


Negative emotions often give us a more narrow "tunnel" vision of ourselves and our experiences, while positive emotions can help us lift that barrier, broaden our perspectives and incline us to do and experience more. The more we broaden our mind sets, the more we build on our positive emotions, strengthen our resilience (i.e. the capacity to recover from life events quicker) and generally feel more appreciative and joyful. Because the less resilient we are, the more negative we see our life and our approach to uncertainty and disappointment. The more we acknowledge, feel and accentuate on our positive emotions - the bigger positive spiral we create that affects not just us, but also our communities and the world as a whole (Fredrickson, 2001).

Positive emotions can not only broaden our awareness, but also spark inspiration, help us solve problems more easily and stress-free, and reduce the nagging voice of criticism towards us and others. Regardless of how negatively you're used to perceiving your experiences in life, it's never too late to learn and change. If I could do it, so can you. As long as you're consistent, you can build up positive emotions and feel the benefits of the positivity spiral, which we're going to discuss in our next instalment of Positive State of Mind. We're also going to focus on tips and ideas on how to quiet your negativity bias and invite more positive emotions in your daily life (supported by more scientific research as I've promised you!).

Have a week filled with love, calm and positive emotions!

References

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

You can find out more about Dr. Rick Hanson's work on negativity bias and positive neuroplasticity here.

Inner Quiet is all about you. We will tackle the thoughts and fears of living in a world that keeps going even when you feel that you need a break. When a stressful life wraps you in its claws with no-way-out, we will try to show you another possibility, another solution, another way. No matter what you do or what you want to see yourself doing, we want to help you to shine through you. To be a human is hard enough without the constant pressure of being perfect and in this day and age we might feel it's impossible to live free of self-imposed constraints and others' expectations. Let's prove it wrong.

Previously on Inner Quiet - Overcoming This Winter's Low Mood

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