Would you say you ‘see’ your emotions as they are moving through you?
Has a parent or partner told you to ‘control your emotions?’ How did that go?
Lucent Emoting, a subfactor of Perspective, the 3rd Element of Well-Being, is like a measure of how much we are able to see shifting tides of emotion happening to us, and navigate throughout them.
You can measure this subfactor in your own life—along with hundreds of other subfactors in 50+ factors of well-being—using the Assessment Center. Go check it out!
Guiding Our Emotions is Difficult, but Not Always Impossible
How we handle our emotions is one of the great Challenges of life. We all share in it. Recalling our need for control, we find that there is a constant tug of war between our expectations and reality. In the same way, there is an ebb and flow between our reactionary brain and our creative brain.
When we experience negative emotions, it is within our purview to be Present and Mindful. For example, we may catch ourselves getting anxious and choose to think positive thoughts in order to shift how we’re feeling. We can stay ahead of our emotions and foster the feelings that befit our broader goals in a given situation.
Be the Surfer
Life is like floating in an ocean, the experiences and emotions being like waves. Inevitable and continuous, they come and they go.
Now, do we simply bob up and down with them? What if we see ourselves for where we are? With awareness and skill, we may ride these waves.
Emotions come up and, just like waves, they may not be predictable in timing or nature, yet there is agency and ability in how one engages with them. We can foster skills (like the well-being Enablers) that make us more agile surfers.
So ride it. Relax into the tumbling, go under it, go over it, etc. With practice, you can shorten or extend how long you ride certain waves. You can look fondly upon your ride of one wave, even if it was tumultuous.
One of the most helpful ways of seeing our emotions clearly is by understanding our biases.
Here, we’re going to call attention to one especially pervasive bias that affects our emotional lives every day.
An Important Application: Our Negativity Bias
Together with our other many cognitive biases is a simple one with huge implications: we skew towards negativity. This seemingly small psychological tendency can seep into every aspect of our lives, affecting our relationships and behavior and how we see the world.
Negative events have a stronger impact on our brains than positive ones. We feel it more when we are annoyed than when everything is ‘just right.’ We tend to remember negative things more vividly upon recollection.1
Even if this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, it runs contrary to many prevailing social myths. Hollywood, for example, would have us believe that good always triumphs over evil. Any underdog equipped with hope and positivity is bound to overcome the ‘dark side’ of negativity, right?
The truth may be that ‘bad’ is simply stronger than ‘good,’ in this context. Little as we would like to admit it, psychologists are aware of this cognitive bias. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses the term “psychic entropy” to indicate that worrying is the brain’s default position. Roy Baumeister, one of the most renowned researchers in modern positive psychology, authored an overview study of negativity research. The following is the surprising abstract of the paper:
“The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.”²
We naturally judge, criticize, complain, and ruminate. And it is our uniquely human task of overcoming our nature.
Ok, breathe. We’re not done putting the spotlight on negativity quite yet, but let’s take a moment and reign in this information with a meme:
Cultural Implications of Negativity
The good news is that you’re not alone. And, hence, the strange news is that there are big, emergent societal implications stemming from our individual negativity biases.
Get the impression that the news is overly negative?
A study titled “Automatic Vigilance: The Attention-Grabbing Power of Negative Social Information” showed that we dedicate more of our brain resources to negative information.
Negative news is more attractive, and therefore sells better. The UC Berkeley study showed that people would spend extra time processing words associated with negative traits than positive traits while carrying out other tasks.3
Ever wonder how it can seem like things are going so ‘wrong’ when they’re actually fine?When asked to recall recent emotional events, we are more likely to recall negative ones.4
Does it sometimes seem like there are more ‘bad people’ around than there are ‘good people?’We remember negative traits in other people more easily than positive ones.5
These patterns can be self-fulfilling cycles, too. For example, we tend to show more deference and respect for those who are negative than to positive people, so negativity can be socially reinforced by, among other things, negative leadership.6 We even have more negative emotion words than positive ones in our vocabulary.7
What Ever to Do?
Once again, we face a challenging and non-optimal aspect of our own nature. Luckily, Lucent Emoting and positivity are skills that can be practiced. And they can be practiced in an intentional way, in order to avoid blissful ignorance or toxic positivity.
First of all, understand that fostering positivity and clarity with our emotions is OK. It can seem irresponsible to step away from social media, challenging social situations, or watching the news for example. But this is, in fact, about taking responsibility. We are the only ones with control of our minds. And we are not alone in our individual struggles. When it comes to negativity bias, it can be a Service to both to step away and re-energize when negativity threatens your perspective. Self-care is more often worth the energy than not. And when we shift our Stories about What Happened to foster a brighter lived experience, we make the world a better place for everyone.
Try This: 1-Day Positivity Diet
For a single day, put a positive filter on your normal media intake. Read news from one of these fantastic positive news sources.
Make a point for this single day to compliment each person you interact with. For every activity you engage with, wrap things up by reflecting on something you’re grateful for during that time.
Lastly, if a show or a movie can be part of your day, make it something unabashedly bright and sunny. There are some feel-good movies that seem hokey but are truly brilliant…**cough Paddington 2 cough**
Remind yourself often that beyond the veil of negativity are ample facts that are filled with positivity and hope, and there are infinite possibilities for how to frame any experience we go through, no matter the emotions that come with it.
One such fact is this: we tend to become more positive as we grow older. In one study, researchers found that older folks’ brains paid more attention to positive stimuli than to negative stimuli. And they even remembered more details about the optimistic stuff.8
Additionally, we recommend checking out some of the chapters of the site linked in the text above, which are especially helpful for Lucent Emoting and positivity.
- Alberini C. M. (2010). Long-term Memories: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2010, 21
- Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370. https://doi.org/10.1037//1089-26126.96.36.1993
- Pratto, F., & John, O. P. (1991). Automatic vigilance: The attention-grabbing power of negative social information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(3), 380–391. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520
- Thomas, D., Diener, E., (1990) Memory Accuracy in the Recall of Emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59.2 psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1991-00334-001
- Tugend, A. (2012) Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall. New York Times
- Schrauf, R., & Sánchez, J. (2004). The Preponderance of Negative Emotion Words in the Emotion Lexicon: A Cross-generational and Cross-linguistic Study. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 25, 266 – 284.
- Reed, A. E., & Carstensen, L. L. (2012). The theory behind the age-related positivity effect. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, Article 339. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00339