The “negativity bias,” or, bad feelings are stronger than good.

The “negativity bias” is a well-recognized psychological phenomenon: people react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good.

For example, within marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act. With money, the pain of losing a certain sum is greater than the pleasure of gaining that sum.

I know this from my own experience. I remember, for example, that hitting the bestseller list with Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill thrilled me less than a bad review of that book upset me.

Research shows that one consequence of the negativity bias is that when people’s thoughts are wandering, unoccupied, people tend to begin to brood; the negativity bias means that anxious or angry thoughts capture our attention more effectively than happier thoughts.

I’d noticed this about myself, long before I heard about the negativity bias. To counter that effect, I’d invented the idea of the “area of refuge.”

Once, when I was back up at Yale Law School to teach a seminar, I wandered around a newly renovated wing. I noticed a sign by an elevator, declaring—to my astonishment—that the area was an “area of refuge.” I’m guessing it’s where a person in a wheelchair or with some other difficulty should go in case of fire.

The phrase stuck in my mind. Now, if I feel myself dwelling on bad feelings, I seek an “area of refuge,” a subject for my thoughts that calms or cheers me. No kidding, I often I think about Winston Churchill, and his great speeches.

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.

Or I think about some of the funny things the Big Man has done. Years ago, he came into our bedroom in his boxers and announced, “I am LORD of the DANCE!” and hopped around, with his arms straight at his sides. I still laugh every time I think about it.

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I just found out that an old friend has started a great new website, Stylehive–“social bookmarking for the style and shopping obsessed.” I hate to shop, so the site makes me feel a little nervous, because I begin to wonder if there’s something out there I really do want. But most people just find it fun.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • http://jayliew.com Jay Liew

    I agree that the negative often affects us more than the positive. Sad isn’t it?
    I don’t remember where I read this, perhaps an entrepreneurial blog somewhere, but the comment that was made was something along the lines of: “big companies usually don’t buy small companies because of the projected benefits of the merger; what really moves them to buy the smaller company is the fear of their competitor buying that company first”.

  • http://somethingsoclever.typepad.com Alicat

    thanks for sharing the link to style hive — I am officially obsessed!! :)
    if you care to share your link to style hive, let me know. I love to see what others like style wise. ;)

  • Susan

    In one of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts cartoon strips, Charlie Brown tells Snoopy, “Good things last eight minutes; bad things last three weeks.” I’ve remembered that all these years because, sadly, it seems to be true!