“Think a happy thought – just one happy thought.”
When I think of Peter Pan, I think of a little boy. Maybe he’s 12 – but he’s still a child, not a man. When he saves the Lost Boys, he does it laughing, wearing a smile on his face. And most importantly he can fly. How does he fly?
With fairy dust.
And how does the fairy dust work?
With happy thoughts.
Peter Pan flies because he thinks happy thoughts. He flies often which must mean he’s thinking happy thoughts almost constantly. Everyone in the story wants to fly, but Peter has a knack for it.
The foundation for compassion and empathy is the same. Whenever I talk about compassion and empathy, most people say this is something they want or like. After all, what’s not to like about more active love and considerate action in the world? As I mentioned in last Thursday’s blog post, empathy benefits everyone. Compassion, or active love, benefits everyone.
The confusion comes in application. There’s How do we apply compassion? How do we apply empathy? How do we make more of this in our daily lives? How do we inspire others to follow this path?
Just like Peter Pan’s flying, compassion and empathy start with mindset. But what is that mindset? How do we get it?
The Negativity Bias
Before we can build a compassionate and empathetic mindset, we need to recognize our present state.
For most of us, our present way of thinking does not inherently foster and spread compassion and empathy. That’s because humans are wired to be negative, and negativity reduces our capacity to actively love.
There have been studies that confirm the tendency of humans to be negative. There are those of us who are determined to maintain positive thinking, such as Optimist International. Still, the vast majority of people are negative.
And when we examine reality, it becomes clearer. It takes three positive thoughts to counter a single negative thought.
Likewise, the more a person thinks about something, the stronger those connections become in the brain.
In short, it’s easy for humans to think negative thoughts and the more we think them, the more we continue think them.
The Great Negative Narrative Engine
The negativity bias isn’t just a self-fulfilling circumstance. It’s reinforced by media outlets and social media networks. The anxiety we feel when seeing a negative headline is what often spurs us to click on an article. The anxiety of the potential disease, violence, or natural disaster is what causes us to turn on the television, click through to the site, or pick up a magazine.
The negative stories are everywhere.
You read them. You think negative thoughts. The pathways in your brain are reinforced. It becomes easier to be negative.
It’s almost as if we were socially engineering ourselves to become more negative.
How this impacts compassion and empathy
When we think negative thoughts there are a couple of potential things that happen:
We feel a negative emotion such as anger, fear, guilt, or shame.
The negative emotion may be tied to thoughts of scarcity – or potentially losing something we currently have. This causes us to cling more strongly to what we have and grow defensive.
These emotions may be tied to fear of discovery – that some secret we’ve held will be found out. Again, this causes us to cling to our masks and grow defensive.
Another possibility is a dehumanizing of the other (as mentioned in last week’s post on empathy). This makes it easier to take whatever actions are necessary to defend and reinforce our current choices and behaviors without feeling bad about how they impact other people.
In short, negative thinking decreases compassion and empathy because it increases fear, anger, guilt, and shame.
How I became positive
Negativity had impacted me for a long time. It was only at the beginning of 2016 I realized how extensive it’s impact was in my life. I was unhappy. My relationships were annoying at best, and painful at worst. Every part of my life was a source of pain – finances, relationships, art, health, faith were all a mess.
Something had to change and I knew it.
That’s when I discovered the power of positive thinking. In order to change my experience of life, I needed to change my perspective on what was happening.
Let me give you an example. Kiddo throws his food on the floor sometimes. I have to clean it up. I could be annoyed about cleaning it up, but if I start to feel that annoyance, I quickly replace the thought with something like:
“I am so grateful my son has nutritious food to eat whenever he is hungry.”
Another example might be when I’m doing laundry. I could be annoyed by the process of cleaning my clothes, but the second I start to think or feel that, I replace it with one of the following:
“I am grateful for my wardrobe of clothes that compliments my body”
“I am grateful I have access to energy efficient washers and dryers that I can use at any time of day!”
As soon as I instituted this process, my mindset began to shift. I became more present. I found something to appreciate about every moment of my life. I was happier. I laughed more. My relationships improved dramatically. My professional life significantly improved.
Everything in my life got better because I became more positive.
This week I want you to be like Peter Pan. Get positive! There are a few ways you can do this (Pick one, some, or all! Whatever is most comfortable for you!):
Change your media. Only read solution-based news or uplifting stories. If you must read difficult stories, be sure to focus on ways to address the problem or how it can be prevented in the future.
Change your social feed. Consciously notice which friends or pages share positive posts or stories and increase their posts in your feed. Unfollow or decrease negative posts.
Replace your thoughts. Any time you start to think, “This sucks” “This is bad” “I hate this” consciously replace it with something you appreciate about the moment, however small. Pro tip: It gives your thoughts extra oomph if you say them out loud.
Change your words. Systematically remove negative words like suck, hate, idiot, or anything similar. Only use words that are solution-oriented, humanizing, or uplifting. Pro tip: This goes hand in hand with replacing your thoughts.
As you go through this process, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment below about your journey to a positive mindset!
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