As the end of 2023 approaches, I set a guiding principle for next year: say no to negativity. That doesn’t mean I will no longer read the glut of negative news; I still want to be a member of an informed public. It means I will try to limit my negative thinking, to subdue the negativity bias inherent in most of us. This bias causes us to reflect more on insults than compliments. To dwell more on disagreeable or traumatic events than pleasant ones. To let negative thoughts affect us more than positive ones.
We come by the bias naturally. In keeping with our survival instinct, our brain became conditioned to be alert to the negative in our environment. Now we need to accentuate the positive. Given our brain’s capacity to transform and adapt, sending positive impulses repeatedly along the neural pathways changes the structure of our brain to release dopamine and serotonin chemicals, the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness. (According to Dr. Jena Field, “consciously attending to our positive experiences does not aim to block out negative emotions. Rather it helps us to counterbalance, refuel and repair the negative toll that life stress has on our brains.”)
In conversations with yourself are you unduly judgmental about yourself? Here’s a novel notion: replace self-criticism with self-praise. Not to suggest adopting the sin of pride or boastfulness but, through affirmative self-talk, developing feelings of self-worth, self-respect, confidence. We can start by reframing our trials in life, viewing them as lessons not millstones. And applaud ourselves for surviving, or continuing to weather, the metaphorical storms, maybe even for becoming stronger as a result. Then banish regret for anything and everything we cannot change or redo. Refocus our mind on gratitude, hope, self-compassion.
We also want to curb our negativity in talking to — or about — other people. To try and live the adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Lastly, the easiest advice to follow on our path to positivity in the New Year: smile often! •
P.S. Every time I publish a new post I praise myself for mastering the technology to set up my blog as a satisfying outlet for my musings. At the same time, I feel grateful to the readers of Sunset Years.