Why Be Negative When You Can Be Positive

I just saw Liberal Arts, a nostalgic coming-of-age indie film directed by and starring Josh Radnor (of How I Met Your Mother) that tells the story of Jesse, a 35-year-old college admissions officer in New York City who loves literature and language who has a romantic relationship with Zibby, a 19-year-old college student. ?The film deals with the addictive pull of nostalgia for our youth but there is a line in the film that caught my attention. Jesse is overly negative and judgmental and at one point after dissing a book Zibby enjoyed, Zibby says to him, “You think it’s cool to hate things. And it’s not. It’s boring. Talk about what you love, keep quiet about what you don’t.”

This made me think how these days it’s so much easier to share with people impassioned negativity than to share with them something closer to our hearts: the things we like and love. This is true in our media/public culture and in our personal conversations. Given that positive psychologists tell us that for every negative thought we need 3-5 positive thoughts to flourish, perhaps we need to consciously practice positive thinking. Here are three practices to exercise our positivity muscle.

  1. Avoid Negative Talk?- When you start thinking critical thoughts take a moment to pause and assess. Mentally tell yourself to stop.
  2. Give The Benefit of the Doubt – There is always more to the story. Create a story that – while not justifying – makes understandable what you find so negative. Offer a positive explanation, an optimistic take on what has happened.
  3. Try Humor – Try to step back and see the absurdity and potential humor of what is happening. Recognize the things outside of your control.

Imagine if we focused thoughts on the things in this world that make life rich, like love and grace and a perfectly brewed cup of coffee. I’m going to start thinking about those things?- and talking about them too.

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