Positive experiences happen to us everyday yet we don’t always take full advantage of them. Have you ever noticed that it could be a great day (you had 8 hours of sleep, it’s the weekend, had a great conversation with a friend etc…) but that it takes just one harsh word from someone or one piece of bad news to ruin the day. Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we actually have three times more positive experiences than negative. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad? Researchers have identified two main tendencies that keep us from experiencing, extending, and expanding our joy: the negativity bias and habituation. The negativity bias refers to our mind’s innate tendency to give more weight to the negative; Roy Baumeister has shown that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. Habituation, discussed in research on the hedonic treadmill, refers to the fact that while we receive boosts of happiness from new positive experiences, over time, we get used to these experiences and they no longer have the same effect.
How can we counter this tendency to assign greater weight to the negative experiences in our life? A recent study by Nathaniel Lambert and colleagues at Brigham Young University gives us a clue. Their research shows that discussing positive experiences leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and even more energy.
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