All In Your Head: The News is Good

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happinessThis morning’s newspaper featured the blaze of mustard flowers that will veil the Back Bay in sunshine yellow for the next few weeks.

There was a shot of the purple canopy produced by blooming jacarandas that turn up the voltage of even the most uninspired streets in town. The images were a relief for the absence of copy about a too-early spring season, or dire reminders of global warming.

Still, at our house, breakfast conversation focused on Russian invasions and malaise of the middle class, rather than Back Bay buds.

When I got to the office, my colleagues and I huffed about the traffic and the landlord’s perennial neglect of our building. Negative beat out positive by about 5 to 1, though if we’d sat down and made a list of every single one of that morning’s events, good news would have beat bad, in a landslide.

We have a natural tendency to assign greater weight to negative experiences than to positive, happy ones. The “negativity bias” refers to our innate propensity to weigh negative elements in greater proportion to positive ones—in fact, the brain surges in electrical activity when one considers bad news compared to good.

Still, even though we come with our wires connected that way, anything we practice over and over on a daily basis becomes a skill, and some folks have developed the negativity skill to master status. There is good reason to practice the opposite. Recent experiments by Nathaniel Lambert at Brigham Young University reveal that when we discuss positive experiences, we have an increase in energy, greater well-being, and better physical health.

Here’s the catch, though–to get the best neuronal bang for your buck-up, you’ve got to share the good news with people you’re close to. Worries about bragging keep some of us from sharing good things in our lives and instead we choose to bond over the difficult ones. We’re used to commiserating over our woes, and the most delicious gossip is rarely of the good news variety.

But new research seeks to prove that if we can break this pattern, we’re likely to feel increased joy. In fact, our well-being influences that of those around us, up to three levels of separation.

So, the good news you share with your sister will pass to her husband and from there to his tennis buddy.

Studies show that making daily lists of things we feel grateful for draws our attention to the positive experiences in our lives and improves physical health. So, make your list on paper or in your head, then share bits of it with loved ones.

German Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer was correct when he said that “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

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