What we’ve known intuitively is now backed by science. Our brains are hardwired to seek bad news. And for good reasons. For eons, homo sapiens’ survival depended on it. Our alertness, expecting the worst, is how we got to the top of the food chain. While other animals have superior strength and speed, we have the brains to think and plan.
It’s also undeniable that discursive thoughts are troublemakers. When our reptilian brain is engaged, our modern brain is inactive. While my brain can’t help me find my car keys, it never fails to locate the right hook for catching and reeling in bad news that feed fears to my mind. Sewer grate covers terrify me. Didn’t I read somewhere about a recall of manhole covers? Images of excrements, rats, and slow death fill my mind’s screen. Still can’t find my keys.
Outrage posts dwarf good news posts approvals on social media. Affront and fury are like honey to bees. Our brains crave it. It’s why politicians seek and get attention with behavior that jolts our sense of fairness and integrity.
Fear is about living in the future; something may happen to my family. Then why not live in the present? That sounds lovely, but complete Nirvana would impede human progress. The seeds for the dictionary and the space shuttle began as thoughts, future possibilities.
According to the behavioral scientists who study attraction of bad over good, we need at least three good to balance one bad. For every one bad tiding, the bakery is out of sourdough bread, I need three good facts, they have rye, wheat, and multigrain bread.
Sustaining our mental health requires uplifting thoughts. Bad is best kept at bay unless and until there is something constructive we can do to affect it. Getting my teeth cleaned I remind the dental hygienist ready to poke my gums for pockets, “I do well with good news. Bad news, not so much.” How often have I heard of someone whose quality of life takes a dive after a medical diagnosis? Negativity can be bad for your health.
Reacting to news I have no control over is a no-win situation. Watching movies that keep me up at night, reliving the violence and horror, I’m better off drinking a cappuccino and eating an entire apple pie. Both will keep me awake. At least the coffee and dessert taste good and don’t leave a residue of helplessness and defeat. Self-recrimination for overindulging is erased by skipping bonbons for a few days.
Infinite things clamor for my attention. The ones I give attention to are what matter. Do I hone in on the negative or the positive? My consciousness experiences my mental mode, not reality itself. Important distinction. Fretting over what might happen is expecting a rabid wooly mammoth to come charging down the street straight at us. Makes for a good thriller. But it’s not reality.
To rise above the mind chatter, we need to remind ourselves that the voice in our head is not us. We can separate the little self from the True Self. The little “me,” full of misinformation, tries to trick us. The little me will remain with me, but I will treat it like a kindergartner who insists a monster is in her closet. I hear you, but I won’t always listen.