How does one stay positive when everything around seems so negative?
Hi Katarina –
Out of all the questions you could have asked, about any topic, you have picked probably my favorite! Because if there’s one thing we dogs are better at than humans (well, besides hearing, smelling, and biting), it’s this!
Some dogs live in fear. I’ve written a lot about my friend Aria, who’s suffered abandonment, beatings, all sorts of awful stuff. And while she’s sweet and loving, and happy in her new home, she’ll always be scared of “worst circumstances.” But even with that, she’ll never be “negative,” in the way people can be.
You see, the problem with you people is that your brains are too big! You remember so much about the past, and analyze it so much, and think so much about the future. And you create. You write novels and symphonies and design buildings and computer coding and put your imaginations on canvases and movie screens – all of which is just wonderful. But that same creativity means you’re always going to be trying to figure out “what’s next.”
Now if your life had always been happy and joyous, that “what next” might be wondering what delights will come to you tomorrow. You’ve always had great friends? Well tomorrow you might meet someone just as flawless you fall in love with. You’ve always been lucky and respected? Then tomorrow you might get a high-paying job you’ll love. You’ve always been attractive? Tomorrow you might get even more gorgeous!
But no one, and yes I mean no one, gets that life. By the time you’re a year old, you’ve felt terror, betrayal, abandonment, and awful pain (between being born, weaning, and diaper rash, it’s a guarantee!). Want to learn not to trust those you love? Experience your parents telling you they’re having another child. Want to know cruel deprivation? Your babysitter says no you can’t stop for ice cream. Want to know assault? Your doctor gives you a lifesaving injection.
In other words, things that are perfectly fine, even wonderful, can feel awful. And your brain, in order to protect you from being surprised and devastated by these things, learns to assume the worst. And with that, you become pessimistic and overall negative.
A few years ago, Handsome met a woman and they both liked each other at once, and started dating. And of course they both had other things going on in their lives. But whenever he would change a date – “Oh I forgot I have to work late that afternoon, do you still want to meet for dinner” or “Hey my cousin’s going to be in town that day for just a few hours, can we meet another night?” – she would always respond, “Yeah, right.” Like she knew he was lying. Even though he wasn’t.
And because of this, eventually he broke things off. Not that she was mean to him – she was actually very nice to him considering she “knew” he was lying to her! But rather he just didn’t want to be in a relationship where he was assumed to be lying all the time, when he was actually telling the truth!
Was she bad? No, but clearly she’d been disappointed, and lied to, so many times in the past that she had learned to expect it. She had been programmed into negativity! Which made her not just believe negatively (as Aria does) but act negatively and thereby create a negative world around her. She made Handsome, who had felt positively about her, feel negatively, and end their relationship! And then be on the lookout for other women to do the same thing, so he could get out more quickly if they did! Yes – her negativity made him more negative!
And while she’s a particularly obvious case, all people share this. This is the basis of all prejudice, when you think of it – people learn to believe this group of people is sneaky, that group is dumb, and that group is evil… while there’s always lots of proof that those beliefs are wrong.
So what can you, or any human, do? You can’t eliminate your own intelligence and live as much in the moment as a pup.
But you can make a choice. You can choose, more than we can.
For example, if you were in that woman’s situation, you could think “I imagine he’s on a date with someone else. But even if he is, that’s okay, as I’ll see him afterward. After all, we’re just beginning our relationship; we’re not committed or anything yet.” Or “He says he’s with his cousin. Maybe I’ll call and see if I can talk with that cousin! I’ll just tell Handsome that I want to find out what his family thinks of him!” And then when Handsome does laughingly hand the phone to his cousin, who talks him up, she’ll know he wasn’t lying. (Or if he got nervous and said no she couldn’t, she’d have every reason to keep doubting him).
Here’s the truth – bad luck will come along. It always does. You’d be dumb to deny that. But your life is worse if you spend all your time worrying about it! Good things also come along, and that negativity can take away the joy they bring. “Yes I just found a pot of gold and will be rich forever, but I know my friend still won’t return my call!”
Look at it this way. You don’t know exactly how long you have to live, but it’s a finite time, right? Maybe you have ninety years ahead of you, and maybe just ninety hours. But either way, it will end. Would you rather spend them happier and hopeful, or mired in suspicion? And would you rather people know you as someone who spreads joy or someone to avoid?
That’s your choice.
You can’t control fate, but you can control what you choose to focus on. When I first step out of our house in the morning I tend to stop, blown away by all in front of me. The smells, the sounds, the sights, the feel. I’m overwhelmed by all the new, the possible. While most people rush out their door, griping about whatever is in between them and their car, not absorbing any of it.
You say in your question, Katarina, that “everything around seems so negative.” I say you’re right, but the most important word in there is “SEEMS.” What about looking for the opposite?
There’s a cold miserable storm outside? Focus on the fact you have shelter. You get a flat tire? Focus on the fact that you know either you or someone else will repair it. You have no food to eat? Focus on the fact that you almost certainly will later. You have no money? Focus on how you can get some.
Again, I’m not asking you to be unrealistic. That storm is cold, that tire is flat, you’re hungry and broke! But focusing on the negative means things will stay that way, while focusing on the positive enables change and improvement.
And here’s the strangest thing about this way of living: you won’t be wrong! For example, let’s say someone you love is ill with a potentially fatal disease. You could choose to focus on the negative, assume they’re dying, and start grieving now. Or you could focus on the fact that the doctors give them a 20% chance of survival, and do anything you can to help make that happen. Now what will happen if they die? Will you be “wrong?” Nope. You’ll still be right. You had focused on hope, and now they’re truly gone. And you can grieve your heart out. But their last days alive were better because you were full of love and hope and appreciation.
Katarina I’m not saying this is easy. It’s not. But it is, I truly believe, the best way to live.
It sure works for me!
Wishing you the very best,