We resolve to be virtuous to lose weight, to exercise, to unplug from social media – but we recall past failures and fear another losing struggle. We toast to a better, happier world in 2020, but we know there will be endless bad news and vitriol, especially this election year. We could use a fresh approach.
For 2020, here’s a resolution that could work: Go on a low-bad diet.
Our minds and lives are skewed by a fundamental imbalance that is just now becoming clear to scientists: the negativity effect. Also known as the negativity bias, it’s the universal tendency for bad events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones. We’re devastated by a word of criticism but unmoved by a shower of praise. We see the hostile face in the crowd and miss all the friendly smiles. We focus so much on bad news, especially in a digital world that magnifies its power, that we don’t realise how much better life is becoming for people around the world.
Here are a few strategies:
First, do no harm. We pride ourselves on the many good things we do for our family and friends, or for going the extra mile in pleasing customers and clients, but what really matters is what we don’t do. Avoiding bad is far more important than doing good. You get relatively little credit for doing more than you promised, but you pay a big price for falling short.
Remember the Rule of Four. Many studies of spouses’ interactions, people’s diaries, workers’ moods, customers’ ratings have shown that a negative event or emotion usually has at least three times the impact of a comparable positive one. So, to come out ahead, keeping in mind the Rule of Four: It takes four good things to overcome one bad thing.
Put the bad moments to good use. Instead of despairing at a setback, override your gut reaction and look for a useful lesson. The upside of the negativity effect is its power to teach and motivate. Penalties are usually more effective than rewards at spurring students and workers to improve. They’re also more effective in motivating sinners to repent, which is why hell-fearing religions have historically grown faster than ones preaching a benevolent message.
Capitalise on the good moments and then relive them.
See the big picture. Just about every measure of human welfare is improving except one: hope.
The better life gets the gloomier our worldview.
By rationally looking at long term trends instead of viscerally reacting to the horror story of the day, you’ll see that there’s much more to celebrate than to mourn.
No matter what disasters occur in 2020, no matter who wins the elections, the average person in India and the rest of the world will likely become healthier and wealthier.
Those who go on a low-bad diet will also become wiser and happier, too.