Keep on the Sunny Side

According to Natalie Wolfson of the Tracom Group, human beings are programmed for negativity bias in two ways–our language and evolution. Of the most common words people use to convey emotion in the English language, 70% of them are negative.

We owe the remainder of our negativity bias to our cave man/woman ancestors. Their fight or flight tendencies programmed them to be constantly on the alert from attacks by predators. Those that learned to anticipate such negative consequences and adapt to changing threats increased their chances of survival.

Nowadays, this type of persistence is no longer needed as too many negative thoughts can create unhealthy levels of stress.

Examples of negative self-talk include:

• They are doing this to me on purpose.
• My boss wants to see me therefore I must have done something wrong.
• If I mess up this project, I will lose my job.
• I bombed that last interview. I will never get a new job.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, claim that the antidote to our verbal pessimism is the use of more positive words. In their book, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” they claim that a single word has to potential to regulate physical and emotional distress.

They suggest that the words we use have two possible effects on our wellbeing. The more positive statements we use stimulate the part of the brain that controls motivation. Conversely, the more negative language we spew disables chemicals produced by the brain that help us control stress.

A study by the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania, appear to confirm the findings of Newberg and Waldman. A group of 35-54 year olds were charged with recording at least 3 positive things that happen to them that day and an explanation of what caused their happiness. The results showed that over a 3 month period, their positivity skyrocketed and their depressive thoughts declined.

In these dark days of being a public servant, we could use some sunshine regardless of its source.

The conventional wisdom seems to be if we want those warm rays of happiness, kind words are a great place to start.

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