Bad News Overload
- We’re hard-wired for survival.
Long before we came along, our ancient ancestors were trying to figure out how to live as humans. Number one among their concerns was how to survive, because there were bigger, stronger, faster, meaner, and hungrier creatures out there looking for a meal. This is the simplest way to explain what some psychologists call the fear reflex, the survival instinct, or the startle response. Whichever term you prefer, they all mean the same thing, and it explains that we’re wired, first and foremost, to defend ourselves and to survive.
- We have a built-in negativity bias.
A specific part of our brains actually helps us detect danger and inadvertently leads to our negativity bias. Each of us has this tiny, almond-sized watchdog called the amygdala, a built-in early warning system close to the brain stem. Its primary job is to warn us of impending peril. It also provides us with the extra energy we need to get out of harm’s way. Those are the good things about the amygdala. The downside is that it often leads us to be overly suspicious and to think negatively. Our job is to use this tiny part of the brain to keep us safe, and then learn to not be overtaken by the negativity.
Here’s a short list of the major effects of bad news overload:
- Bad news can pull your mood downward.
- Bad news can negatively affect both your mental and physical health.
- Bad news can increase your worries and make you feel unsafe.
- Bad news of a political nature can raise your level of frustration.
The Good News
The world is better than the media report.
Health and life expectancy. In 1940 the average life expectancy in the United States was sixty-two. Today it’s a shade under eighty. This is the result of phenomenal advances in medicine and health care, along with an increase in knowledge about the value of a healthy diet and regular exercise. More and more people are living longer and healthier lives.
Democracy and freedom are on the rise. We read and hear daily about atrocities in the world that are the result of corrupt and dictatorial governments. What we don’t read and hear about is the steady growth of democracy and human rights.
Quality of life. Largely because of advances in education, health care, economics, democracy, and technology, we have the potential to live longer and happier lives. Without overwhelming you with statistics, here’s a short list of some of the other ways in which life is getting better. But you won’t read or hear about them in the news. Bad news travels fast, but good news takes the scenic route. The key is to appreciate these advances rather than take them for granted.
- Child labor is dramatically down throughout the world.
- Income is rising in most countries.
- Murders in the United States are in steady decline.
- Travel by car or plane is safer than ever.
- The rights of women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ persons have steadily risen. (Yes, more progress is needed.)
- Access to food and clean water increases daily.
- School bullying is being significantly reduced.
- Home ownership in the United States is near peak level.
- Smoking and other uses of tobacco go down each year.
- There are far fewer teen pregnancies.
- Sports and entertainment get better every year.
- There is more opportunity than ever to have a good quality of life.
The author leaves you with two recommendations if you’re interested in learning more about how things are actually getting better:
- Read Dr. Rosling’s book Factfulness. It’s enjoyable to read and will brighten your outlook.
- Make good use of one of the greatest innovations in history: the Internet. Do a search on “the world is getting better.” You won’t have time to read all the fascinating articles that come up.
Looking for the Good
It may require an attitude adjustment.
To a large extent, our daily input is the result of habit. We tend to visit the same websites, listen to the same people talk, watch the same TV programs, and read the same printed materials. The amount of that input that is positive or negative varies with the individual. Some of us need to do a little adjusting to find the good.
That’s why researcher and author Shawn Achor says we often need to retrain the brain or, as he often puts it, rewire it. Habits are easy to form—so easy, in fact, that they often form without our realizing it—and hard to break. Changing habits, particularly bad ones, is a completely different story. One bad habit is allowing too much garbage to be dumped into our minds.
We rewire, or retrain, the brain by getting into the habit of consciously looking for the good, allowing it into our minds, savoring it, and sharing it with others. Can this become a habit? Yes. How long will it take? Psychologists generally agree that if we do something for twenty-one days in a row, we’ll form a new habit. One of the best possible habits is a daily routine of positive input.
Count Your Blessings
When you’re thankful, you tune in more to the goodness around you. We quickly and naturally notice the negatives of life. But with a little rewiring and a little diligence, we can train ourselves to see that the positives far outnumber the negatives. Once this becomes a habit, the good around us seems to increase. You won’t even have to look for it. It will start finding you.
Here are a few recommendations.
- Send a hand-written note of thanks to someone who has enhanced your life.
- Keep a gratitude journal for at least twenty-one days. At the end of each day, jot down the events, things, and people you’re thankful for.
- Pray and/or meditate. Depending on your beliefs, try either of these by sitting quietly with your eyes closed and focus on the people, activities, and things that add joy to your life. The more you do this, the more effective it becomes.
- Put a short quote or message about gratitude on your nightstand. Read it just before you turn off the lights. Read it again when you wake up in the morning.
- Look for the good around you throughout an average day. Try to notice the things you normally take for granted.
- Take a walk through your residence, be it a home, apartment, or other. Look at everything in each room. Are you thankful you have these things?
- Carry a pocket reminder.
Pass It On
You’re far more likely to find good news and pass it on to others if you start your day on a positive note. A simple way to make this happen is to try to begin each day with some positive input. Plenty of research tells us that how we start the day sets the stage for the rest of it. As Mary Pop-pins said, “Well begun is half done.”
The key is to put something that makes you feel good in a place where you’ll see it first thing in the morning. It could be a picture of a person you love or an occasion you never want to forget. It could be your favorite quote, or a book that’s had a lasting impact on you. It could even be a single word or two, such as Bruce Diaso’s thankfulness and opportunity. It could be an object with a positive memory. You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So is what you feed your mind first thing in the morning.