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  • April Griffin

What does negativity teach us?

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

It is well known that people are more likely to remember negative events than positive ones even when they occur at equal rates. Similarly we have more terms to describe negative events than positive events. Naturally it seems people tend to dwell more on the negative than the positive. This is called the "negativity bias".

Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson describes it like this: “The brain is like Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive experiences.” The negative events and feelings stick longer to us. Positive experiences seem to slide away faster from our minds like Teflon (like a non-stick pan).

To counter this negativity bias many in the psychology field have emphasized the importance of developing practices that help people stay longer with the positive experiences and feelings. One way we can do this is by daily gratitude and recalling positive moments at the end of the day, longer hugs, and intentionally engaging in positive experiences.

Many religious and cultural practices have traditional ways that invite us to soak in the goodness of the positive spiritual power through acts of worship and reverence. Similarly for thousands of years cultures have held festivals that remember and celebrate abundance, provision and the beauty of the divine and the goodness of the earth.

However many religious festivals (for example: Hanukkah, Easter, Eid al-Adha) although they are marked with abundance and warm gatherings with community and family also tell the traditional stories of challenge, loss, death, scarcity and overcoming.

These cultural festivals tap into our deep need to remember and mourn and learn from pain. Through these rituals of remembering we are reminded of our resiliency to overcome and challenge adversity. The tradition of gathering to mark our collective losses with others also functions to deepen our bonds with our fellow human beings.

Negativity bias can be seen as a hindrance or something about our natural human state to be fixed through intentional practices that emphasize the positive and change the orientation of our mind.

But our negativity bias can also be a vehicle to tell our individual and collective stories of oppression and trauma that enables us to learn from pain through remembering our past and in the process develop deeper connection with one another and forming new ways forward that strive for increased justice and change.

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