I am happy to be called a negative person. It took me years to realize that you don’t need to be made of positivity rainbows in order to be happy and I now proudly own my negativity.
We have been conditioned to believe that negativity is the enemy of all that’s good in the world and that we should endeavor to remove all negativity in our lives or replace it with positivity. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know that it is practically impossible.
The reality is that we all possess–and need–a little negativity in our lives. What matters most is how you use it. Effectively utilizing negativity is the essence of what I call negativity wisdom. At its core, negativity wisdom is the ability to put negativity to work for you rather than against you.
Here are five ways to develop negativity wisdom and secure the full benefits of what negativity has to offer:
- Negativity is natural.
First, we must stop attempting to eliminate negativity and embrace it. Negativity naturally exists in each of us and is a necessary part of life. Imagine our primitive ancestors trying to survive a saber tooth tiger without a smidgen of skepticism. Today, we avoid dark alleys at night, create budgets to keep us on track, and parents consistently arrange schedules, stuff backpacks, and carry a Mary Poppins purse of just-in-case items.
Think about all the decisions you make in a day (what to eat, what to wear, where to shop, which lane to drive in) and imagine not using any negative-minded critical thinking skills. These decisions are generally the product of inherent negative tendencies.
2. Negativity can serve a purpose.
One of the most important elements of negativity wisdom is the ability to decipher whether negativity is useful or useless. Ask yourself if your negativity is helping you avoid danger, solve a problem, create a contingency plan, or if it is at least going to help you fold the laundry. If so, then it’s useful and there’s no harm in keeping it around. In fact, it’s to your advantage!
3. Remove excess (unwanted) negativity.
Complaining, catastrophizing, and needless worry are examples of the useless type of negativity that we are often told we must rid ourselves of.
Although easier said than done, there have been several studies that conclude that appreciation may increase positive feelings and reduce negative ones making gratitude one of the most reliable methods for removing unwanted negativity. It’s difficult to experience road rage at the exact same time you’re feeling thankful for the fact that you have a vehicle to drive and get angry in. Being grateful and appreciating what you have in your life is useless negativity’s worst nightmare.
4. It’s all about balance.
Everyone has both positive and negative tendencies (yes, even that guy who won’t leave your comments section has positivity). The ratios of negativity to positivity can widely differ. What I might consider a healthy amount of negativity might send someone else over the proverbial negative edge.
Consider monitoring your negativity and gauging your immediate reaction afterward. Do you feel happy at the same time you are exhibiting the negativity? Surprisingly, some people can answer “yes” when exhibiting negativity, even the useless kind. Allow only as much negativity as you see fit.
5. Share negativity at your own risk.
Negativity can breed more negativity in a misery-loves-company sort of way. Negativity that is shared with others can spread and quickly exceed your negativity threshold.
Pull back the reins if you find others joining your negativity bandwagon a bit too wholeheartedly. Change the subject or refocus your delivery. There is a fine line between venting about your boss and obsessively complaining about him/her.
Negativity is only the enemy if you allow it be. By developing negativity wisdom you can learn to use negativity to your own advantage.
Jans-Beken, L. et al., (2015). Measuring Gratitude: A Comparative Validation of the Dutch Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ6) and Short Gratitude, Resentment, and Appreciation Test (SGRAT). Psychologica Belgica. 55(1), pp.19–31. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/pb.bd
Deanna Willmon is an author and speaker who has spent most of her professional career trying to convince others that they need to be more administratively organized. Now she spends her time convincing people they need negativity in their life. Deanna has come to the conclusion that negativity isn’t the enemy of happiness; hence her title, Negatively Ever After: A Skeptic’s Guide to Happiness (She Writes Press, September 12, 2017). Deanna enjoys reading, playing board games and writing short stories. She hails from Las Vegas and still resides there with her spouse and two children. More