There is so much negative stuff in this world that it drowns out the positive. That’s how web searches work, for a very telling example. The negative is shocking, so it gets more views or clicks. This pushes it to the top of the search results, so we see it first. And the less “popular” things fall down into obscurity at the bottom of an infinitely long list. After a while, the negative and most shocking things are all we see in front of us. Our human brains work in a similar fashion. We can only actually focus on one thing at a time, despite what our culture seems to tell us. If we take in the negative constantly, that is all we will see in front of us when we look out at the world. Ingesting so much that is negative leads to more negative perceptions and that just leads down a road that ends in something…well, something very negative. It is a bottomless and very dark mental pit, not to put too fine a point on it. It has happened to me many times in the past 30 years (since the onset of my condition). Our Western culture seems to have put us on a negativity-diet: it seems that we are constantly being spoon-fed negativity.
There IS an alternative. And it is an ancient solution: dwell on things that are positive. Of course, this sounds so hard when one is in the pit of despair. Indeed, it may not be possible at that point, depending on how far down the pit one is mentally. I am speaking from a lot of experience on this. It may take some help from medication and/or supportive friends, positive family, or just decent caring people to talk to. Unfortunately, true mutually supportive and deep relationships seem to me to be more and more scarce in our Western culture as the depth of true human relationships is enticingly replaced by the shallow consumption-model of all things, including people. So, before I get to a dark place, I can head it off by dwelling on things that are positive and life-giving for me. When I can do this consistently, it helps steer me away from that negative spiral before I get too deep into it. It is a practice. It takes time and effort to develop it. When I make dwelling on positive things a practice, I find that I see more positive things in front of me. The mental health profession has been telling us this for a long time, though in my experience, it has been telling me this in a somewhat sterile fashion–not really telling me how to do it. Spirituality, in its myriad of forms, has been urging us to dwell on the positive for centuries. Yet, the thing is, it is all for naught without some concrete examples. One cannot simply will oneself to think positive thoughts. Peter Pan could do it. But this is real life. I had to take the advice to heart and do it in ways that worked for me. Just staring at the black pit looming before me and trying to think positive is so impossible it sounds almost comical to me. But it isn’t ‘funny’ in the least. That dark pit that I fall into is not for the faint of heart. Yet, with the repeated experience of the black pit opening before me in my life, I have found it is much better to attempt to avoid it while I am still stable, instead of waiting until I am in it and trying to claw my way back out. Let me give you some examples of positive things from my past in hopes that they may stir some ideas in your head for positive things to focus on.
In my adult life, I have adopted two rescued mutts. The first one, in my 20’s and 30’s, was Izzy. She was a generic brown dog. She was a 40-pound cattle dog mix. Probably many generations upon generations of mutt in her lineage. It has been my experience with dogs that if you breed enough generations of mutts, you get a very good, empathetic, and physically robust “generic brown doggy”. Both my dogs have fit this description and they have been wonderful companions. Not really companions, as much as comrades, they have been at my side through all the life-threatening ups and downs of my illness for over 30 years. They never have left my side in life and after.
Day and night as “two days’ time.”
When I was working in an intolerable, politically heavy work environment, I used to logically break my 24-hour days into two 12 hour ‘days’. I would work for a ‘day’ from 8am-5pm and do all the other things I needed to do in the evening. Then, when work was done, I still had a whole ‘day’ to sleep. When I went to bed at night, I could think, I worked for a day, now I get a whole day to rest and relax and sleep.
Taking long news and media vacations.
The media these days is more of a circus than information. First, I stopped watching TV news. I subscribed to some electronic print papers and read them when I had the time. After a while of this, I ended up reverting to buying a paper now and then and keeping up with the big stories. But I fill myself up with positive movies when I do watch movies, and I watch a lot of nature and science shows on PBS.
My attention span has dwindled down quite a bit in the past few years. It helps to force myself to pick up a book (or my kindle) and commit to reading it through. I just nibble off little bits here and there, and it currently takes a long time to get through most books this way. But it is so much better than most of the stuff we are offered on the television and internet.
Writing (poetry for 20-25 years, a spirituality blog, books, and writing for newsletters like this one).
I write a lot. I write because I love to express myself. It is a muscle one can develop. Do not be discouraged at small beginnings if you are just starting out. If you enjoy it, even if it’s not good at first, it will blossom into something more than you can imagine.
Volunteering my time for causes I am interested in.
I do some volunteer work as well. With all my time that I would normally devote to sitting in front of the TV, I like to get out and make a difference for and with others. I tend toward spiritual support, animal support (volunteering with the local Humane Society), and helping people in my life with technical and household repairs. I do a lot of gardening. I help people in my life with technical, computer, and handyman type projects.
All these things I have stumbled upon by just trying things out. Many things can only be really learned through personal experience. So, this whole article is just meant to impart some wisdom from my own experience for you, my reader…you may take it or leave it, it’s totally up to you. My little bit of wisdom is this: Find something positive. Find something that brings you joy and life. Spend time with it. If it is a thought or a fun thing to do, think on it. Or do it! If it is a favorite pet, or a hobby, or getting together with a friend, get out there and do it. That is the path to life. Eventually, that is the path to lasting happiness. Try a few things, find what you enjoy doing, and then go do it! You may not be good at it at first, but if you enjoy it, you will improve. And you have just found a lifeline to grab onto to pull you up from the pit of this negative-focused culture.
William lives in southern Michigan. He is married and has a six-year-old daughter. He has written poetry for 28 years, wrote for a spiritual blog for seven years, and writes for various blogs and newsletters. He has authored several books.