Finding Joy Against All Odds
You're at your favorite music festival. The greatest band ever is playing, and you're so excited to be there. But, it rained last night, and there is a giant mud pit where the dance area should be. Upon realizing this, your smile fades, red flames lap at your insides, and you suddenly can't have fun. This is terrible. Everything is terrible.
Why can't we embrace the mud? Why is it so difficult to see the positive side of a situation?
It's easy to tell someone to "Be positive!" However, someone who is stuck in the alluring, stimulating land of negativity doesn't want to hear such trite things. Oftentimes, I am this someone, hanging out with my negatives, languishing in the bad, just because it feels better. For me, an important first step not just to tell myself to "be positive!" In order to journey over to the Land of the Positive, I have to acknowledge the reasons I dwell on the negative aspects of life.
Science says that we are hardwired to dwell on the negative since evolution has shaped us into alert, danger-avoiding creatures. In prehistoric cave-man days, we often had to run from life-threatening danger while gathering food or protecting our families. Detecting the negative was imperative for our survival. Even though we aren't up against this type of danger in the present, we're still programmed with something called a "negativity bias."
The negativity bias can be explained as the tendency of people to focus on the negative, since the bad ignites our minds more than the good. Negativity is like a drug. It stimulates us. Our minds are very sensitive to negative thoughts, emotions, traumatic interactions, difficult events, and tough social interactions. Negativity makes lasting impressions, outweighing the positive in many ways.
Everyone knows that focusing on the bad can bring us down, and spread negative energy to others. Negativity can stimulate specific glands in our bodies that ignite a "fight of flight" response, raising our stress hormones (cortisol), and lowering the body's natural immunity. We can actually become sick from negativity.
What can we do about this?
First of all, to focus on the good, we should realize that the Land of the Positive isn't so far away. And, we should be open to reaching this destination, just as long as we really appreciate it. Science also tells us that it takes much longer for our minds to "emotionally absorb" good events. Next time something great happens, take some time to really experience and appreciate the awesomeness. Soak it up. Take a mental picture. Conjure it up later when you're feeling blue.
It's OK to take a break from the difficult realities of the world. Shift your focus from your super-charged Facebook feeds, CNN headlines, FOX news, Drudge Report, and all of that. Political and social realities are important, and need our attention, but sometimes it's good to come up for air. Recharge. Tune in to your immediate surroundings. Your home. Your partner. Your children, family and friends. Your unconditionally loving dog or cat. These aspects of your life deserve your love, your time, and your gratitude.
Focus on creating something new. Creating a new recipe for the family dinner, write a letter to an old friend, create space between yourself and negative feelings by experiencing nature. Start volunteering for organizations that will be able to make a difference on the realities of many. Creating helps us grow with each experience so we can contribute to the world around us; contributing naturally infuses our lives with meaning and positive vibes.
In order to save ourselves from the negative, we have to find joy despite the odds. We have to listen to our desire to succeed, to live, and to be happy. We have to embrace our metaphorical mud pits, understanding that dirt is harmless, and allow ourselves those incredibly meaningful experiences where positivity floods into our minds, bodies, and souls.
Get out of the negative. Find joy against the odds. Dance in the mud.