My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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About Pollyanna week, and also spontaneous trait transference.

I’ve been noticing lately how critical people are. The restaurant was a disappointment, or the party was dreary, or the speakers were dull, or the kids were badly behaved, or the dinner companions were pompous, or the movie was stupid, or the book was overrated. Why must everyone do so much whining, carping, and complaining?

And, oh yeah, I think I might be getting a little over-critical, myself.

So I’ve declared this week Pollyanna Week. For one week, I’ve vowed, I won’t utter one word of criticism or complaint. If I can’t say something nice, I won’t say anything at all.Pollyanna

One reason I decided to do this is because of the tremendous efficacy of my commandment to “Act as I would feel.” I want to feel enthusiastic, warm, and accepting, and I’m not going to get there by constantly making snarky comments.

The other reason is that I realized the truth of Samuel Johnson’s observation: “To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy.”

So I set off down the sidewalk this morning, deep in thought about Pollyanna week, and by 9:35 a.m. I’d already broken my resolution.

During my weight-training, my instructor and I were talking about mercury levels in fish. And I criticized an article I’d read recently.

“The headline was deceptive,” I said, in a disparaging tone. “It seemed to say that eating fish had been shown to be great for your health, but then the body of the article made all sorts of exceptions — like children and women of childbearing age. It was misleading.”

Then five minutes later – aaack. I realized I’d broken my resolution.

Now, it’s true, I made what I consider to be a valid criticism of the article. And it’s true that drawing distinctions and making critical judgments are crucial to sophisticated discernment.

But most of the criticism I indulge in isn’t of that sort; it’s not thoughtful critique, or constructive analysis, but instead kneejerk bad-mouthing. And so to get myself out of fault-finding mode, I’m just going to quit cold turkey instead of trying to make nice distinctions between types of criticism.

Last night I was reading a fascinating book, David Myers’s Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. And it gave me another reason to stop being so critical.

In “spontaneous trait transference,” people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about the qualities of other people with the qualities of you yourself. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant or stupid, unconsciously Jean will associate that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’ll be linked to those qualities. Ever wondered why people want to kill the messenger who brings bad news? Trait transference. So by being more generous and enthusiastic, I’ll be helping my own reputation as well as other people’s.

**
At 11:45, I broke my vow again. Pollyanna Week is going to be tougher than I thought.