How to Crack the Negativity Code

It is so easy to slip into the doldrums.  This seems easy to understand when cabin fever sets in during bleak midwinter, but can also happen for most people on a sunny summer day. 

Negative thoughts are seductive. In fact, scientific research tells us that the brain has an automatic survival default to negative over positive.  We have a kind of bad news bias built into our DNA that keeps us out of harm’s way.

Studies show that we need almost a five-to-one ratio of positive over negative in order to hang onto joy. With the easily accessible barrage of negativity available, it seems like a long-shot that we would be able to resist the depressive lure of distressing and grim conditions. But perhaps our powerlessness holds the key to joy after all.

In order to crack the five-to-one negativity code, we must accept that we are emotionally powerless over the way our brain is constructed and let go of trying to out-think it. 

Like the folks who practice 12 Step Recovery, we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves will hold us in loving arms regardless of our shortcomings.  Then we have to engage in the work of changing our bad news bias into something positive. 

The same research which identifies our default brain confirms that we can tip the scales towards happiness and override the tilt to negativity with frequent small positive acts of kindness and compassion…again with a ratio of about five-to-one.  In other words, we need to be actively engaged in being nice if we want to have a life of sustained peace, joy, and love. It sounds like we better get busy.

With Gold Dust at My Feet

“Grab your coat, and get your hat, leave your worry on the doorstep.  Just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street.” ~ Dorothy Fields

The lyrics from ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ were composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields in 1930 as the world was plunging into the Great Depression.  The words gave hope and were heard across the country for years.  The song became a jazz and big band standard.  It is widely believed that the stock market crash of 1929 was a symptom of deeper and more systemic problems than the events leading up to the epic day it all tanked in September.  The nation certainly did not leave worries on the doorstep.  Instead, we entered into a period of isolationism which included punitive tariffs.  The result was catastrophic.

Lessons of the Great Depression and the optimism of ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ are available to each of us in our own struggles.  Hard times come and they also go.  We can choose to isolate, withdraw, protect ourselves at the expense of others and hide with our head in the sand, or we can choose to connect with families, friends and the community.  We can absolutely find ways to help one another, and persist with an optimistic ‘Can-Do’ attitude.  Of course, no good comes from ignoring the problems that we have.  Things are resolved by taking a positive approach toward solutions.  But we need each other to make it happen.  Let’s reach out and lend a hand.

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” ~ Helen Keller