There are ways to work with your brain and change it for the better through self-directed neuroplasticity. In his fascinating book ”Hardwiring Happiness”, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. describes how the brain evolved a negativity bias for the survival of our ancestors, explains what negativity bias is, and relates how this bias affects our quality of life:
“The negativity bias doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. But if you’re happy, you’re happy in spite of it. It’s a bias, ready to spring into action depending on events. When you feel good, it waits in the background, looking for a reason to make you feel bad. When you feel bad, it makes you feel worse.
This bias creates two kinds of problems. First, it increases the negative. It pulls your attention to what is or could be bad, makes you overreact, and stores the negative experience in implicit memory. It also creates vicious circles of negativity both inside your brain and with other people. In a variety of ways, this bias increases your stresses, worries, frustrations, irritations, hurts, sorrows, feelings of falling short, and conflicts with others.
Second, the negativity bias decreases the positive. It slides your attention past the good facts around you. It makes you underreact to the good facts you do notice. And it slips the good experiences you do have right through your brain, leaving little or no trace behind. This bias is a kind of bottleneck that makes it harder to get happiness into your brain.”
Regretfully, negative experiences are often more powerful, intense and memorable than the positive, and yet they are not completely useless or invaluable. More importantly, it is not a good idea to suppress or deny them.
Still, there are people you might know who have bought into the negativity bias, continually wiring their brains and storing a significant supply of negativity. Take, for example, people who whine, complain and worry on a daily basis. Their negative thoughts and feelings about themselves and others often lead to various mental and physical health issues, and these behaviors can result in others reacting to their negativity and even wishing to limit their interactions. This, of course, leads to conflict.
In my own experience, I’m working on changing a habit that has been bugging me for years. I’m in the process of adopting a different outlook on life with a new and improved set of feelings and thoughts.
I can also imagine how hard it must be for people who experience negative feelings to notice, truly appreciate, and embrace the positive in their lives. Thankfully, Dr. Hansen has developed a series of exercises that makes it possible to re-route the wiring of our brains.
What do you make of this?
How do you deal with your negativity bias?
What do you do to increase positive experiences?