Most of us know people whose characteristic thoughts and reactions are so negative and, we prefer to keep them at a distance. They are likely to notice the bad qualities in others rather than the good ones. For example, when they may see someone walking down the street laughing or wearing a big smile, they’re likely to think the person is simple-minded, drunk, or high rather than happy. Many people associate someone who is mostly happy as naive, immature or incompetent.
On the one hand, if people are surrounded by lots of bad behaving, hostile and unsupportive people, it makes sense that they will have a negative views of humanity. On the other hand, too many can’t see far enough beyond their negative views to see that there is good in the worse of us and bad in the best of us.
To make matters worse, our own brain is conspiring against us. We have what psychologists call an intrinsic negativity bias. It’s the tendency to focus on and give more weight to negative experiences or information than we do of positive ones. It turns out that negativity bias is so ingrained in our psychology that it has already developed and become measurable by age 3, the time we become aware of ourselves as people.
Still some people are noticeably worse than others at being negative. It starts with our early training. Our parents, teachers, and other adults tell us to act like a grown-up. We’re told to calm down, be quiet, and stop being so silly. Some of us grow up accepting these messages and the feelings of guilt that go along with them and incorporate them in our self messages. Psychologists call this inner voice self-talk, and it includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions or beliefs. As we go about our daily lives we are constantly thinking about and interpreting situations in which we find ourselves. What kind of self talk is it? Is it mostly negative as in “you are too fat”, or is it positive as in; “keep at it, you can do it”?
That internal voice in our head determines how we feel. As it turns out, if you can’t see the good traits in yourself, you’re likely to miss the best qualities in others. Seeing the good in others is thus a very powerful way to feel happier and more confident and more loving toward yourself.
Even crooks, deadbeats, sociopaths, and everyone you know must have useful virtues, such as determination, generosity, kindness, patience, energy, perseverance, honesty, fairness, or compassion.
It is likely that the good you see in others is also in you. You can't see that good if you did not have an inkling of what it was.
You, too, have positive intentions, real abilities, and virtues of mind and heart. Those qualities are a fact, as much a fact as the chair you're sitting on. Take a moment to let that fact sink in. You don't need a halo to be a truly good person: A good enough person will do.
As you become more proficient in finding positive aspects in other people, you get better at seeing positive aspects of yourself. Seeing the good in other people is not just necessary for having good relationships; it will also substantially improves your relationship with yourself.
What’s a Person To Do?
1. Take an inventory of your own good qualities. It’s not necessary to be flawless to be good enough person. Are you an honest person who speaks the truth with compassion, a good listener, appropriate, responsible, and on-point whenever it’s required? Do pay your bills, keep your word, forgive when things go wrong? That’s just a list. Make your own.
2. Keep an eye on the things you tell yourself, and challenge the negative self talk which produce negative feelings.
3. Your current way of thinking might be self-defeating. If it doesn’t make you feel good or help you to get what you want, it’s time for a change.
4. Disputing your negative self-talk means challenging it and rewriting the negative to a more positive view.
5. Be willing to try and try again until you get it right.
Remember, you and only you are in charge of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. How you treat others is likely to be how you treat yourself. Good luck with the positive changes.