How to deal with negativity
And something about the elasticity of time
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Negativity permeates the world. Not just because of negative media bias but also because the world as we know it seems to be in flux, increasing the level of uncertainty most of us feel daily.
Here's a short list of bad news we concern ourselves with:
The pandemic – we may act and wish that it is over, but it continues to impact our lives.
Wars – Ukraine is at the forefront now, looms large and ominous with huge implications for the whole world.
The economy – most people don't even know what that is, but all worry about it. They do feel the effects of inflation and rising interest rates, though.
The environment – with extreme weather events growing more extreme.
Gun violence, and violence in general – with now over 300 mass shootings in the first half of 2022.
Political instability - increased and more pronounced and uncurable divisions, and a Congress increasingly unable to work together toward the big picture common goals and needs of the people.
There's no denying that we live in challenging times. Not sure if this will make you feel better, but Ray Dalio talks about the economic/prosperity/life cycles of empires in THIS VIDEO. Give him 20 min, and he'll show you how history repeats itself over the last 500 years. It may sound depressing, but there's a hopeful message at the end. I was skeptical but stuck with it, and it was worth it.
We must remember that we don't know if our experience now is better, worse, or the same as the amount of stress our grandparents lived through during previous wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and other challenges in American history. We only have our perspectives and lived experiences. No amount of facts and data will enable us to embody the worries and anguish of previous generations.
While things in the world today may be confusing, concerning, and downright depressing, some people only, or exclusively, focus on the negative with pessimism. They see nothing but the bad, the wrong, the ugly, and complain. They rain on your parade or envy others. Doom-scrolling is their main hobby and expertise. Delivering bad news and forecasts is their only contribution to most conversations.
OK. You've been there, too! Same here! I am the first to admit it. We do go through cycles. But a cycle is not the same as a habit. And the habit of negativity is a particularly awful one. It affects not only the person's direct lived experience but also bleeds into other people's lived experiences.
"Ain't nobody got time for that!"
Here's a reason to be more optimistic. Optimists live about 15% longer than pessimists, according to this study spanning three decades and using thousands of people.
The scientists suggest an optimistic mindset may promote healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy diets and help individuals resist the temptation of unhealthy impulses like smoking and drinking. Optimists may also handle stress better than pessimists, choosing to pursue long-term goals rather than immediate rewards when faced with a challenging situation.
I am not suggesting a fake positivity tint on your eyeglasses. I wrote about toxic positivity HERE. Instead, we can resolve unnecessary and persistent negativity in productive ways.
Perhaps the most helpful suggestion is to draw a line between what is and isn't within our control. Yes, we want to be informed. Yes, we want to make the world better and hope our decisions will help. But no, we don't have control over everything we wish was different.
Why do we allow everything to control us? Perseverating over things beyond our control only makes us feel smaller, more insignificant, fearful, angry, and depressed. That's a perfect emotional soil for negativity to grow roots.
The antidote is to focus on what is within our control and sphere of influence. Focusing close to home on family, community, hobbies, and nature offers many opportunities for connection and many things to be grateful for. It's these little things that constitute the totality of our lives. If we start there, making better choices every day, we can hope that the ripple effect of our humanity, kindness, helpfulness, connectedness, and openness will eventually reach out to where world decisions get made.
As they say – if you want to change the world, start with yourself. And vote with your attitude, actions, and choices, not just during elections.
"They" also say - tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are. Therefore, stay away from negative people. You will only get more like them. You will feel anxious, depressed, cynical, critical, and hopeless. You may even feel desperate, angry, and stuck.
Take control of your mood! If you can't stay away from them, put time limits on the conversations you have with them. Come up with ways to shift their focus, change the subject, and even make a joke to break the pattern of their negative rants. To balance the negative exposure, hang out with positive people excited to be alive and do what they do.
I've been known to respond to negativity with, "I am sure someone out there is living their best life regardless." It's true. Someone, somewhere, probably closer to you than you think, is living their best life. They are engaged and energized, feeling fulfilled, motivated, and enjoying the moments.
Usually, they see the same bad news we see, but they have a center of gravity in the moment and the place they inhabit. They take responsibility for life, work, play, and relationships. They don't take things personally or for granted. They trust their resourcefulness and skills. And they look for the goodness in others. They've made it their mission in life to make others feel better! They LOVE living!
Positive people often have something to look forward to. It could be a trip, finishing a project, a career move, a life milestone, or a new experience. With nothing to look forward to, we loiter around, squandering time. We have nothing to celebrate, either. Without celebrations, we miss out on fun, joy, feeling accomplished, moving forward, and making great memories.
Too often, people who identify as spiritual tend to discount what's happening in the world and around them as unreal. The argument goes that the forms of life we observe are not what they appear to be, while an ultimate reality that also encompasses the phenomenal world permeates everything. As far as stretching your gray matter trying to figure these things out philosophically, this is one of the greatest human pass times. It exercises your faith muscles, too.
As far as this being a way of escaping responsibility and putting a positive spin on reality by negating the phenomenal world, this is a poor strategy. It kind of works if you really want to ignore the laws of physics. You will get hit by a very real bus and likely die if you don't pay real attention to your environment. Also, try telling the mothers of all the dead children in Ukraine that the world is an illusion and see if it will give them comfort or get you any appreciation.
What is an illusion, though, is that you have no control over how to feel about anything in the world. With a little mindfulness training, self-observation, self-study, and reflection, you can discover a whole new way to relate to things coming at you. You can discover a whole new relationship with the world around you. That's when the reduction of unnecessary suffering happens. You will find that your negativity decreases, too.
With a little skillful means, you can put your negative emotions to some good purpose. They can catalyze positive actions, activism, helpfulness, productivity, and motivation for meaningful change.
In contrast, nothing good ever comes from negativity. It's not like objectivity or realism. It's not a problem-solving, resourceful state. Instead, it's a nihilistic state that sucks the life out of everything around it.
Sadly, some people may be unable to help themselves. Their brains are wired for negativity. That's not to say they can't change it. We know enough about brain plasticity to hope. But we can't expect change to happen amid a conversation. It will take time, willingness to do the work, and actually doing the work of rewiring one's brain by practicing what I've mentioned above.
Finally, no discussion about negativity can be complete without mentioning social media. Despite some positives about staying plugged into social media, such as maintaining contact with friends and family, organizing events and causes, promoting, entertainment, and even getting or giving emotional support, the negative effects on mental health are well documented. Here's a good read on how social media can make you miserable.
Due to the way algorithms work, if you already have a negative bias and interact with such content online, you will get more of it pushed your way, thus amplifying the negativity. Consider this a warning.
Interestingly, Pew Research concluded that 64% of Americans think that social media has a negative impact on the way things are going in the US today, especially the more politically conservative users.
Additionally, they bemoan social media's role in fomenting partisanship and polarization, the creation of echo chambers, and the perception that these platforms oppose President Donald Trump and conservatives.
Those who say social media have negative impact cite concerns about misinformation, hate, censorship; those who see positive impact cite being informed.
Other reads on the subject:
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Today's food for thought came to me via my fellow writers of deepculture. It was one of the 20 things they compiled for us readers.
This is an interesting read about time and time management called Time is Elastic by Laura Vanderkam.
When we decide that we need to do something, we find the time to do it. Other stuff either doesn't happen, or it takes less time, or it gets punted forward. Much other stuff turns out to be more malleable than we might have imagined. And so, of course, the key to time management is treating the things we *want* to do with the urgency of the things we *need* to do. We make time for them first, and let everything else take the hit.
Several good news, compiled on June 30th by The Week.
1. Woman discovers the vintage skates she bought online belonged to her 40 years ago
2. 'Tech Fairy' fixes old computers and gives them to neighbors in need
3. Dolphins are returning to Lisbon's Tagus River
And more. Read them HERE.
This is all of this week, folks!
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