Some years back, I was talking with a woman in our community. She was a breast cancer survivor and she told me about a conversation that she had with a friend who also was a survivor. Her friend asked her, “What would it feel like for you to think that something good might happen, rather than something bad?” Her response was, “Totally weird and uncomfortable. “Good,” her friend said. “Try it now.”
From an evolutionary perspective, it really makes sense that we feel uncomfortable when we envision positive things coming our way. Our brains are designed to scan for trouble and fixate on what might go wrong in any given situation. This is described as the negativity bias and it one of our hard wired survival strategies. Of course, it is a very good strategy for avoiding real danger. But, in the absence of a true threat, it limits our capacity for enjoying, and celebrating our moments. We have such a short time on planet earth. When the negativity bias rules, we get very loyal to our anxiety, mistrust and vigilance. We cannot inhabit the fullness of our lives.
In happiness research, a common denominator among those who are deemed “happy” is a sense that they are actually choosing to be happy. They believe that happiness is possible and there is a willingness to turn towards it. Catholic mystic and writer Henri Nouwen writes:
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and then keep choosing it every day.”