One of my jobs is the ghost-writer of autobiographies. People tell me their life stories and I write them in their voice. Over the course of several projects, it became very apparent that people tend to remember the negative events with much more clarity than the positive ones.
This can be said for myself as well. I remember quite vividly falling into a camp fire and getting a third degree burn on my leg in the summer of ’82 but I cannot tell you what I got for Christmas that year. I can remember every negative comment made by the opposite sex about my looks going all the way back to kindergarten. It’s harder to remember the compliments. This can have a massive effect on a person’s general outlook and self-esteem in life.
Interactions in our lives can be broadly organized into three categories: Positive, negative and neutral.
Positive = You receive a compliment on your hair.
Negative = You are told by your boss that your new idea will not be implemented.
Neutral = A barista takes your order.
Research shows that for every one negative experience, it takes a full five to counterbalance it. (1) Since our brains our wired with a bias towards negativity, neutral experiences can also become negative. For instance, if someone spends a lot of time planning and cooking a meal for their friend and they do not receive gratitude for the effort (perhaps the friend had a bad day at work is or just forgot to say thank you) then the feelings associated are those of disregard and neglect. The friend didn’t say the food sucked but they didn’t say anything at all and sometimes that is worse. So, the neutral becomes negative.
In addition to interpersonal interactions, we are also under constant bombardment from the media telling us that we aren’t good enough and we all need X product to feel positive. We hear about school shootings and corrupt politicians. With such overwhelming negativity all around us, what can we do to feel positive or at the very least, balance the polarity?
First, we can try to focus on the good things in our own lives. Try not to allow the neutral become the negative. Accept your flaws and move forward. Try not to let it get to you when someone disregards your own politeness or is an outright asshole.
Second, we can make an effort into helping others to create good memories. Be mindful of someone who looks like they might need a kind word, no matter how insignificant it might seem at the time. If you’re at a restaurant and the food is good, tell someone. Instead of sitting silent when a co-worker makes a good suggestion, say the words “good idea.” Compliment your friends on whatever it is they do well and thank them for their efforts, even if they fall short.
Tell your spouse how much you appreciate the way they do that silly, insignificant thing that makes you laugh. It may be the 1st positive thing that this person hears that day and it might get outnumbered by the negative. Or it may be the 5th that changes his whole outlook and memory of that day or week forever. It’s really not that hard.
We all want our autobiographies to be filled with good memories. But, we can’t do that on entirely on our own.