May 6, 2021

Why Happiness is Difficult to Sell: 6 Ways to Sidestep Negativity Bias.


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Writing for me was always a way of catharsis.

I never thought I would take it seriously and share my self with the world at large.

One thing led to another, and here I am today, looking forward to communicating with everyone here more eagerly than I ever could have imagined.

During this journey, I addressed the issues burning deep inside me and how I dealt with them. Over a period of time, healing became my focus, rather than contemplating about what went wrong again and again. Perhaps, it was my mechanism of coping.

As I grew as an individual and as a writer, I observed that happiness and joy are difficult tasks to sell. As ironic as it may sound (because every human being wants to be happy, to be joyous), it is true.

I enjoyed writing about sunshine, flowers, and children, but these articles would not get as much attention as the negative ones. Nature made me happy and helped me immensely in coming to terms with my inner feelings and emotions. But I am no poet and cannot describe my feelings in the most beautiful words. I am just attempting to write my way through.

At one point, I was even tempted to go back and visit my old wounds to write about them, though I didn’t want to.

First Impressions

How do we generally relate to anything or anyone we come in contact with for the first time? The “first impression,” which is an established psychological factor comes into play. We are naturally attracted to some things or someone. We are responsive to their vibes. The same thing happens with media—visual, print, and social. It takes a little effort to go beyond that.

Negative Bias and Survival Instinct

Human beings are hardwired for negative impulses. The thing that psychologists call “negativity bias” or “negative-positive asymmetry.” It could be as simple as obsessing about a broken mug in the kitchen or something someone said to you in the office rather than focusing on the compliment you received the same day. We fixate on mistakes and criticism rather than success, when common sense would entail we do the opposite.

Most of this is attributed to our evolution—when learning from negative outcomes was necessary for survival. It has shaped our history as Homo sapiens. The quicker we learnt from mistakes, the more chances of survival we had. Not so anymore, though.

It has been shown that negative news, headlines, and destruction of any kind evoke stronger psychophysiological reactions. This applies to articles too. According to negative bias, people give more weight to negative information, which in turn implies that it gets more reads and attention from the audience, in most cases directly affecting sales. A vicious pattern is established here.

Writer-Reader Relationship

The same logic can be applied to a writer and reader. It is a delicate balance of what the writer wants to write and the response of the reader. Both of them have to be responsible for this balance and be aware of what they choose consciously, overcoming the unconscious negative bias. The media houses also have to fight the age-old battle of journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Ultimately, it boils down to what sells.

Consumerism and Development

Consumerism has flourished in the guise of development, feeding off our insecurities and feeding us more insecurities in return. Negativity is dished out in all sorts and forms. This becomes all the more significant given the present situation—when the world at large is fighting so much against negativity at all levels—individual, as a society, and as nations. This affects all aspects of our lives—our behaviour patterns, decisions, and relationships.

The time is right to put this negative bias to rest and lead humanity toward the positivity that it needs today.

Ways to sidestep it:

1. Develop Compassion. First and foremost toward your own self. Accept that you are not perfect and that mistakes are part of daily life. It’s okay to stumble and move on. Focus on moving on.

2. Highlight the positive moments. If anything brings a smile, savour it. Spend some time thinking about it. Negative impressions are automatically stored in our long-term memory. Counter this by spending time with positive emotions and feelings. Slow down a little, and enjoy it. Let it sink in.

3. Forgiveness. Forgiveness can go a long way in healing and developing a positive mindset.

4. Beyond the first impression. Let us learn to go beyond the first impression. Even if you are attracted to something negative impulsively, learn to move past it and onto the positive aspect of the same thing. It takes a little effort but it’s doable.

5. Train your mind. Train your mind to enjoy compliments and believe that you are worthy of them, rather than concentrating on the rebuke at the office.

6. Break the pattern. Break the pattern of your thoughts and actions. Choose positivity over anything at all. If you fail, it’s alright. Next time be more aware when making your choices. Develop a mindful approach. Dwell on good things for as long as you can. Linger on happiness; cling to small joys of day-to-day life.

What started as a survival instinct thousands of years ago, need not determine our behaviour in present. Our intelligence is for our use and not the other way around.

A small exercise that I have been doing with my kids at bedtime helped them understand the importance of small positive and happy moments.

Every day while tucking them in, I ask them to tell me two positive things that happened that particular day. Initially, they struggled with it because nothing grand was happening while sitting at home for this last year.

Slowly, we started narrowing it down to small things—flowers blooming in the garden, a friend calling to say hi, having your favourite dish for dinner, ice cream, hugs, baking cake. What was routine and taken for granted became more meaningful.

That’s the power of positivity.


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