How Gratitude Overrides the Negativity Bias
Gratitude is often called a “relationship emotion” because it exists in relationship to others, yourself, or what you are appreciating. It is a complex emotion that doesn’t stand alone because it seeds additional positive emotions.
When you are in a state of gratitude you become more expansive, open, feel lighter, happier, and more content. In this state, you are cultivating more positive relationships with yourself and with life in general, while nourishing your Creator essence, which is naturally present.
Gratitude is the single best way that we know to override the negativity bias that is built into the human operating system and fuels the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT). Negativity bias is the idea that the human psyche is more affected by negative things than by those that are positive.
The effect of the negativity bias is that even with positive things happening, the negative things may dominate your thinking and emotions. For example, drama-filled events from the news, unforgiving thoughts about yourself, or challenging relationships are examples of negative things that can dominate your thinking.
There is actually an evolutionary reason for the bias. The brain operates this way to alert you to possible danger.
Because of the negativity bias, negative things become a magnet for your attention. As you give your attention to undesirable thoughts, it feeds the cycle of more negativity and can eventually create a full fantasy of all that could go wrong.
Negative information requires more energy to process mentally. Remember the last time you interpreted a comment as negative, or you caught a glimpse of an unapproving look on someone’s face? Very likely it took a lot of energy to manage your worry about that comment or stare.
One researcher says the human brain is like Velcro for negative thoughts, and Teflon for positive ones. We often describe experiencing the DDT as “sticky” because it feels like we are stuck in the quicksand of the negativity bias.
When you live in gratitude you are interrupting the automatic negativity bias. Something as simple as a smile cultivates gratitude. In just 17 seconds a smile stimulates the “feel good” hormone called Oxytocin. Smiling, saying thank you, and setting an intention (sometimes called the “3-S’s”) reduces the negativity bias and outweighs it with a positive and creative point of view.
It is often said that you are always strengthening something. Are you strengthening the negativity bias, or, are you cultivating gratitude and appreciating what is good in your life? One leads to more drama, and the other leads to designing your dreams and focusing on what you care about.
In addition to the “3-S’s,” here are more ideas to nurture gratitude:
- Create a gratitude jar for your desk and/or home and jot down what you are grateful for during the day. Nothing is too small — a fresh cup of coffee, your child’s smile. Reread the notes each month and let it be a playful way to shift the conversation toward what is good, rather than what is wrong.
- Gratitude Pause: Simply stop, take a couple of deep breaths, and focus on one thing that you are grateful for.
- Look people in the eye when you say thank you. An unconscious “drive-by thanking” while looking at your phone is dehumanizing. Gratitude is an emotion of connection—so connect!
- Nighttime reflection: Write down 3 things that you appreciated about your day before you go to sleep.
Psychologists who study the negativity bias have established that each day up to 80% of our thoughts are negative. Gratitude practices override this imbalance and get you out of the DDT and heading toward your true essence as a Creator.