A friend of mine enjoyed a successful art show recently. Everyone had a great time at the gallery, and her work was admired by all. A person made a comment about not liking one of the pieces, and it was hard for my friend to stop focusing on this. It was as if that one negative comment drowned out all the favorable ones.
I watched and listened with interest. It reminded me of a party I hosted, which was delightful in every way. Except for the fact that we ran out of red wine. The next day when I thought about the party, I kept cringing about running out of wine. That was the first thing that popped into my head, overshadowing the delicious food, great company and fun had by all.
Why are negative things more compelling than positive ones? A quiet good deed might go unnoticed, whereas a slight in word or action will not be missed. The focus on it might last for days and beyond, morphing it into something with heavy significance.
An accomplished, confident woman I know was telling me about how she often lies awake at night wincing over a faux pas or errors of her workday in a busy law firm. She has to actively redirect her mind, reviewing instead her wins and successes, which consistently and exponentially outnumber any mistakes she makes. She wonders why this behavior persists.
I think it has something to do with why Bravo reality shows are so popular. A series about the real housewives I know would be very boring. No major contention or temper tantrums – just kind, hard-working women devoted to providing for their loved ones. They don’t back stab, manipulate or attack each other. A few conflicts arise but are resolved without abuse or violence. No one would tune in week after week to watch that. What makes for a good life doesn’t necessarily make for good TV.
Human nature has its weaknesses. One of them is our attraction to drama. It distracts us like nothing else. If it’s not happening on its own, we can create it by magnifying something that should be overlooked and ignored. It gives us a sense of power and control.
Of course there are highly evolved individuals who don’t do this – I know four of them. I crave their company and benefit greatly from time spent in their harmonious presence. Harmony might be quiet, but it’s far from boring. The rewards of creating and maintaining a peaceful state of mind are big: less cortisol flowing through our veins, more energy for our work and relationships, increased efficiency and fruitfulness. Giving up the facade of control isn’t easy, but it sets the stage for a powerful production.