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We live in a world swirling with complaints. If we don’t read negative comments online or hear them in public, we find self-criticism churning through our own minds. It’s as if we’ve all agreed to get up angry and stay that way all day, finally dropping into bed with a scowl on our faces.
Don’t get me wrong—losses must be grieved, and when things are in disarray they need attention. But a constant barrage of nit-picking and doomsday-ing chokes out any chance of hope or optimism. I love George Bernard Shaw’s description of a grumbler: “A feverish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “…negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything…Before long we and everybody around us are miserable.”
Psychologists have even tracked negativity in the brain, and compare it to drug addiction. So if it makes us miserable, why do we keep doing it? Here are seven ways negativity creeps into our lives:
First of all, complaining is sometimes familiar. Perhaps we grew up in a home where nearly every word was corrective or critical. Negativity has become a mindset and a habit.
Grumbling also makes us feel we fit into the norm. If everyone at work is griping about the long hours, you risk rejection or being called a “Pollyanna” if you point out the generous overtime pay.
Sometimes having a critical nature makes us feel smarter than the average bear. It shows we’re more intellectual than others. We forget that it’s good to be a critical thinker, but annoying to be a critical person.
Or perhaps whining gets us sympathy. Many play the victim or the martyr just to get this kind of attention. And it’s much easier to be a victim than to be proactive and solve our problems. It also keeps us from feeling the surge of empowerment that actually comes with being accountable. Being the poor, beleaguered victim becomes the way we define ourselves.
Some of us thrive on drama. If it isn’t there, we create it. Every event is fraught with disastrous turns of fate, proof that everything and everyone is just terrible. Too many of us catastrophize small setbacks because we gain more sympathy if we turn them into mountainous hardships. We borrow trouble and assume the very worst will always happen.
Some become negative because they’re perfectionists and anything short of perfect is dreadful. This all-or-nothing approach leaves no room for incremental progress or even the healthy admission of occasional failures. In parenting, it makes children’s stress skyrocket. Can you imagine if Christ had this outlook, and wouldn’t allow us to repent every time we fail?
Insecurities can also make us see the world negatively. We may misinterpret a glance and assume that person dislikes us, when that wasn’t their thought at all. We may hear of a meeting being held and automatically assume it’s because we’re getting fired.
You can believe the adversary is the one who’s cheering, not the Savior, when we indulge in these destructive habits. So how can we break the cycle and get back on a more positive track? Here are ten ways:
First, semantics matter.Experts say that when we re-label nervousness as excitement, it changes our entire outlook. The increased heartbeat and adrenalin are the same, but when given a positive label, we proceed with eager confidence. What if we re-name our problems and call them challenges, or even opportunities to learn? Maybe a setback is a chance to approach a dilemma from a completely new angle. Just giving things a new name can actually work.
Practice gratitude. Every day, look for ten blessings you appreciate. I once kept a “Book of Hearts”—a collection of compliments for my husband, filling the pages with things I admired about him a few weeks before Valentine’s Day. Then I wrapped it up and gave it to him. He loved it, but it actually turned out to be a gift for me: By deliberately looking for things to praise, I found an abundance of fabulous qualities! Could I have made myself miserable filling a similar book with complaints? Probably. We really do find what we’re looking for.
Check your social environment.Are you surrounded by negative people? Can you distance yourself a bit from these friends and instead fill your life with those who look on the bright side, build you up, and inspire you? Often negative associates drain your energy, especially if your role has been the rescuer.
Unclutter. We’re not always aware of the huge impact our surroundings have on our mood. When we live with order and beauty we feel more relaxed, even more creative. Just start with one room, and notice the refreshing impact it has on you when you enter.
Toss the grudges.It’s not just that they don’t do us any good; they do us harm.They keep us looking backward instead of forward. They poison our spiritual self. Catch yourself when you find old resentments creeping in, and consciously choose to shove Satan’s snares into the trash. Forgiveness is freeing. One of my favorite clip-and-keep quotes about this is from President Henry B. Eyring: “We are to forgive to be forgiven. To wait for [others] to repent before we forgive and repent is to allow them to choose for us a delay which could cost us happiness here and hereafter.”
Find some alone time. When we’re overbooked and overdrawn emotionally, we naturally crave just a few minutes by ourselves (I picture the harried mom hiding in the bathroom and saying she’ll be out in ten minutes). But this private time is really essential to good mental health. We can reflect, focus on our own needs, ponder about spiritual matters, and simply get centered again. We can figure out if we are attracting negativity, and set personal goals.
Perform kindnesses. This outward focus is probably the fastest way to turn from negativity to joy. When we’re helping others we truly do forget our own worries and feel a lightness in our souls that gives us a brighter perspective. It also makes our brain look for ways to be useful in this world.
Monitor your health. It’s hard to be cheerful when you’re sick or hurting. By taking care of our physical health, we stand a much better chance of having a positive outlook. Take the time and make the effort to have a healthy body.
Get counseling. So often we need an expert to help us identify why we’re so negative. A good counselor can help us identify the roots and causes of our unhappiness and help us through to the other side.
Amp up your study of the Book of Mormon. If you’ve dipped in and out of scripture study, set a daily goal and stick to it. There really is power in those pages and you have free access to that power. There’s also something to doing this daily.Those who have experimented upon the word testify that their life and even their mental clarity improves with daily study.
Negativity tugs at all of us. But even if the world succumbs, we can steer clear. And wait until you see the friends you draw, just by being someone who’s more enjoyable to be around. Best of all, your heavenly relationships will improve. The Holy Ghost will abide with you more constantly. You’ll grow closer to your Savior, and to your Father in Heaven. Personal revelation will increase. Your prayers will change from a laundry list of troubles to a joyful desire to help further God’s work. It may not be easy to do this, but is it worth it? Positively.
Hilton’s LDS novel,Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMomvideos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.