It has been said that life is less like a hike through mountains and valleys as it is a journey by train, with one rail representing life’s positives and the other the negatives. Joy and pain will both always be part of the human experience. Learning to see blessings in seasons of pain and accept challenges during times of joy is an important skill to master.
How Negativity Bias Affects Outlook
When people are experiencing difficulties, it is easy for them to color every aspect of life. This is due in part to something known as negativity bias. The bias refers to the fact that negative experiences, thoughts and feelings tend to have a stronger impact on people’s psychological well-being than do positive experiences, thoughts and feelings of equal strength.
Negativity bias manifests itself in multiple ways. As time approaches for a planned experience, for example, people tend to dread a negative experience more than they look forward to a positive one. They also tend to give a negative interpretation to an experience with a roughly equal number of positives and negatives. Language reflects the bias, with more terms generally used to express negative emotions than positive ones.
One theory to explain negative bias is that negative experiences generally require more mental resources to address. People experiencing challenging situations, like recovering from amphetamine abuse, must process and analyze them in order to minimize the consequences and avoid similar situations in the future. Because negative events require more cognitive processing, they also demand more attention and focus.
Overcoming Negativity Bias
Addressing negativity bias involves focusing more intentionally on the positives of life. Psychologist Rick Hanson states that the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but like Teflon for positive ones. He explains that specialized circuits in the brain record negative experiences immediately but that most positive experiences are recorded by the brain’s standard memory systems. In these standard systems, for something to be transferred from short-term to long-term memory requires holding it in awareness for a period of time. For positive experiences to balance the negative ones, people must savor and focus on the positive ones for enough time, a dozen seconds or so, to be fully recorded.
In addition to focusing more fully on positive experiences that come as a matter of course, it is also wise to intentionally add small moments of pleasure to life. Pleasurable experiences differ for different people but can involve such things as watching a funny movie, listening to music, taking a bubble bath or eating a favorite meal. Balancing pain with pleasure doesn’t always have to involve an experience but can also be simply a mental process. Recalling a favorite memory or joke can quickly change a mood.
Another helpful tool for focusing on joy is to keep a record of pleasant moments. Keeping a gratitude journal is wise. People may also choose to keep a file of correspondence or pictures that remind them of positive experiences.
Experiencing Mixed Emotions
Focusing on life’s positives is an important skill, but it is possible to take it too far. An article in Scientific American notes that attempting to suppress unpleasant thoughts can have negative consequences. Negative emotions help us evaluate our experiences, which leads to personal understanding, growth and a sense of meaning. They help identify problems which need to be addressed.
Acknowledging a full range of emotions also leads to enhanced psychological well-being. The article reports on a study of people undergoing psychotherapy. Before their sessions, patients completed questionnaires and wrote narratives about their lives. People who reported mixed emotions, feeling both fearful and hopeful, for example, experienced improvements in well-being over the next week or two. The study authors note that experiencing the emotions together may help detoxify the negative ones.
It is also important to be realistic about potential obstacles when pursuing goals. A Huffington Post article recommends a strategy called mental contrasting, which involves comparing a desired future outcome with current reality. People are most likely to be successful when they focus on both a goal to be achieved like sobriety from drugs like amphetamine and the potential obstacles they may need to overcome. Thinking about potential obstacles allows people to develop plans to counteract them.
We Can Help
Learning to view challenges both optimistically and realistically is an important part of addiction recovery from drugs like amphetaime. If you are ready to start an addiction recovery journey, give us a call. Our helpline is toll-free and available 24 hours a day. We can help you understand and identify your treatment options and can even check your insurance coverage if you wish at no cost or obligation. You can be free. Why not call now?
 “Overcoming the Negativity Bias,” Rick Hanson, Ph.D., https://www.rickhanson.net/overcoming-negativity-bias/ (February 10, 2016).
 “Negative Emotions are Key to Well-Being,” Tori Rodriguez, Scientific American, May 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/negative-emotions-key-well-being/ (February 10, 2016).
 “The Surprising Downside of Looking on the Bright Side,” Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post, October 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/02/downside-of-looking-on-the-bright-side_n_5901162.html (February 10, 2016).