A Pandemic of Negativity

What you are thinking and speaking has the power to be viral. It can spread and affect others in ways that are harmful or helpful. Each and every moment, you have a choice that is entirely within your control to think and speak with positivity or negativity.

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Many people may remember game six of the 1986 World Series. With the score tied in the tenth inning, Boston Red Sox first baseman Billy Buckner let a routine ground ball slip between his legs, allowing the New York Mets to score the winning run. The Mets would go on to win game seven and the World Series. While much has been written about this play and the aftermath for Buckner, very little has been said about what happened nineteen days prior to that infamous game. Buckner was being interviewed by WBZ-TV about the pressures of being a major league player. Here were his exact words:

“The dreams are that you’re gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate.”

A weird coincidence? Perhaps. But to dismiss this as such is to deny the power of language. Reality is a linguistic phenomenon. What we think and speak determines our emotional state, which in turn shapes the meaning we give to our circumstances. That meaning drives our actions and the results we get in life. Our language thus has the power to generate a virtuous or vicious cycle depending on where it lies on the positive/negative spectrum.

Imagine two people, both with essentially the same life circumstances. The first person wakes up dreading the day ahead, thinking, “I wish I could just go back to sleep.” The second wakes up smiling and thinking how great it is to simply be alive. Each person’s thinking will drive a different emotional state. Through that emotional state, each individual will construct a different version of reality. And they will take actions and get results consistent with that version of reality. In this example, the first person is far less likely to be loving and kind to his family than the second.

Relatedly, research from the field of positive psychology points to an incredibly high correlation between positive or negative language and well-being (Source: The Hope Circuit by Martin Seligman). In one project, researchers looked at the word cloud derived from the Facebook statuses of 40,000 women.

And did the same for 40,000 men.

The researchers also looked at U.S. counties with the highest and lowest rates of cardiovascular disease. Here’s the word cloud from the counties with the highest rates.

And from the lowest.

The research overall shows an incredibly high correlation between positive and negative language and mental and physical health outcomes. While correlation does not equal causation, researchers increasingly believe that what we think and say affect our well-being. Positive emotions induce parasympathetic activity, which contributes to physical and mental well-being. When we stew in negativity, the opposite is true.

I believe that we are suffering from a pandemic of negativity, which may have far greater consequences than the coronavirus pandemic. Just take a look at the discourse on social media. The news reporting. The conversations we are having within families and friend groups. And, perhaps most importantly, what we are thinking about each other. What you are thinking and speaking has the power to be viral. It can spread and affect others in ways that are harmful or helpful. Each and every moment, you have a choice that is entirely within your control to think and speak with positivity or negativity.

Most of us are grasping for actions we can take to do something right now to make the world a little bit better. Perhaps there is no better place to start than with your word. What does your word cloud look like right now? What would you like it to look like? Is it possible to disagree with someone and, at the same time, think and speak kindly to and of that person? Is it possible to speak more positively about yourself? What can you do to ensure that you are consuming a steady diet of positive information? What will you need to read and listen to? What will you need to avoid or limit?

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