By Dave Hood
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” —Winston Churchill
Every day of our lives, we are bombarded with negativity. Reading the newspaper, we learn about the most recent murder, war in the Middle East, some act of nonsensical terrorism. Driving to work, we watch the guy who is possessed by road rage pass or the cavalier trucker who veers into our lane without signally.
We listen to the mean-spirited sniping by hosts on talk radio. We listen to the discouraging hourly news on the radio—the stock market’s plummeting, another greedy of corporate elite who has been charged with a white collar crime, or a politician who is acting like a deranged maniac.
There is not a week that passes without some sensational story on the television, especially CNN, about negativity. Last week, we learned about the young millionaire football player who assaulted his wife, another who whipped his child bloody with a stick, and another who in blind rage shot and killed his girlfriend.
At work, we must often deal with incessant complaining by unhappy coworkers, who snarl about low salaries, heavy workloads, the boss whose is a tyrant, fellow workers who have poor attitudes. Friends and family feel burdened by the stress in their lives—the responsibilities of paying bills, parenting children, and care giving of elderly parents.
All this negativity is not good for our mental health. It’s an assault on our peace of mind. It contaminates the psyche with images and ideas of doom and gloom. It generates stress and undermines our well-being. At its worst, negativity can create anxiety and depression.
Disconnecting from Negativity
Each of us has a choice on how we respond to this negativity. We can allow it to consume us, or we can choose to cope with it. Writer Julia Cameron once said, “What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiples when focused upon. Negativity multiples when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?” We can learn to disengage from the forces of negativity by doing the following:
- Disconnecting from negative people. Some people complain incessantly about everything or are constantly criticizing others. This negativity can erode our positive view of life and undermine our self esteem. To cope with them, we can choose to devote small amounts of time with them or cut them off. I focus on socializing with positive people, those who have a sense of humour and look to the future with optimism.
- Injecting silence into life. The media’s dominant message is negative. It reports about war, death, tragedy, crime, environmental problems—all that is wrong with humanity and the world. Many people believe that the global village is a hostile and indifferent place, and the media has socialized us to embrace this view. When the news becomes depressing, I’ll turn the channel to a sitcom, turn the radio station to music, glance past the stories about murder, war, and terrorism, or read something meaningful and positive.
- Letting it go and moving on. The Beatles sang, “Let it Be,” while the Buddhists teach us to let it go. To let it be means to allow the negative event to play out without interfering. Sometimes we can bring additional harm or make the situation worse by getting involved. To let it go means that we let our anger or resentment pass. In the past, when people complained, criticized, or offended, I’d often become angry or resentful, and hold on to my negativity toward them. The Buddhist wisdom has taught me to let go. This takes time, but it can be accomplished. Meditation is a great method of releasing the negativity in the psyche. Focusing on the present moment is another. We cannot change the past, but can learn from it. Furthermore, if we don’t let the past go, it will often make us unhappy.
- Refusing to respond to negativity. Popular topics of conversation include religion, sex, and politics. For instance, a friend might make a sarcastic comment about the government’s response to a social issue, an opinion that we don’t agree with. Becoming involved in these conversations can create heated arguments or offend others. For many years, I would contribute my opinion, which would often only add fuel to the heated discussion. I have learned to listen and hold back on my opinions. I remind myself: “ If you cannot say something positive, say nothing.”
- Immersing into enjoyable and meaningful work or leisure pursuits. One of the best ways to combat negativity is to devote our time and energy in what we enjoy. For many people, a career gives them meaning and purpose and satisfaction, while others experience pleasure from leisure pursuits. I have learned that writing and photography are what give me the “Joie de vivre.”
- Enjoying the Arts. We can fend off negativity by inoculating it with delightful music, pleasurable art, upbeat films, awesome photography, poetic writing, soulful fiction, anything that is creative. The best poetry, memoirs, short fiction end with an epiphany about the human condition—they share a lesson about life. I often read meaningful articles, magazines, and books, anything that nourishes my soul and fills my mind with positive ideas and concepts and stories. I also delight in taking in a good film at the cinema. An upbeat, memorable movie this past summer was Boyhood, a story about a kid’s journey into adulthood.
- Counting our blessings. This simple exercise can help us refocus on the positives in life. Each day, we can answer the question: What am I grateful for? Work, love, family, savings are common responses. Most people don’t think of their health, until they lose it. At any time, our lives can be altered by accident, illness, disease, misadventure. I am aware of two people who are dying, terminally ill with cancer. I choose to focus on the present, doing what is important in the now, as their might not be opportunity in the future. If it’s negative, I discard it. At some point during the day, I express gratitude for good health. I’ve learned that if you don’t have your health, you have a poor quality of life.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross said, “Negativity can only feed on negativity.” If you allow it to assault your psyche, you become an unintended victim. Life is too short to be victimized by negativity. So make a conscious effort to be where you want to be and to think optimistically.