"You did what?" I stammered, "I don't think I heard you right." My friend Florence smiled triumphantly. "Tasha, shutting off my cable was my only option. I couldn't keep hearing about all the things that were wrong with the world. I'd had enough." (I have a borderline obsession with television, so this was an intense statement for me to hear.)
Florence is brilliant, courageous, and my hero in so many ways--her seemingly small choice was an instructive one. Florence lives in Nigeria, a country that is experiencing more than its fair share of strife and heartache. But instead of succumbing to the negativity around her, Florence had taken control.
Halfway around the world, the U.S. is holding its mid-term elections. The good news is that we get to select our leaders. The bad news is that this election was one of the most expensive in history -- and much of that money was funneled into caustic attack ads.
In the coming days, the attack ads will mercifully end. But I'm not sure the cynicism they'll leave behind will disappear. Our world is getting more and more negative. According to a recent Gallup study, over the past eight years, humankind has become more stressed, angry, sad and worried than ever before.
I see a scientific reason behind this trend. Even though we humans enjoy positivity, we tend to pay closer attention to negativity. This served our ancestors well ("Wow, there's a tiger coming towards me -- I'd better run."), but isn't quite as helpful in our modern era. ("Wow, that email my boss sent me sure was mean -- I'd better stew about it for the next week.")
Here's the truth: If you want your life to be less negative, you'll have to reengineer it a bit. Just like Florence, with a little commitment and intentionality, you can curate your mood. It's worth the effort: positive emotions make us less afraid, more creative, more productive, and much happier. Not too shabby, right?
Here are three easy tips to curate a positive mood:
1. Banish Energy Vampires
Have you ever been around an energy vampire? Although this isn't a terribly scientific term, it perfectly describes the effect that negative people have -- they suck the life right out of us.
Think about the last energy vampire you were around. When they left the room, you probably fell into a spiral of negativity, whether you realized it or not. There's a phenomenon that explains this: it's called emotion contagion. Research has shown that we actually "catch" the emotions of the people around us.
Let's flip this idea on its head. Why not use emotion contagion for good rather than evil? What if you minimized or eliminated the time you spent with energy vampires and maximized the time you spent with people who energize you? This doesn't have to involve socially reengineering your entire life -- it's usually about making smarter daily choices.
2. Ration Social Media
One study of more than 600,000 people showed that emotion contagion also happens via social media. In other words, you don't have to physically be around energy vampires for them to suck the life out of you. So, first, choose your Facebook friends carefully.
And what's more, you might be happier if you reduced the time you spent on social media. Why? People who use social media excessively tend to be less satisfied with their lives. I know, I know -- banning Facebook from your life is easier said than done. But what if you spent just 10 percent or 20 percent less time on it? The benefits are compelling and it's worth trying.
3. Choose the Soundtrack of Your Life
According to composer and author Joel Beckerman, the daily sounds we hear should "elevate our experience." But the problem, he notes, is that most sounds have the opposite effect. Just think about the last time a sound (be it construction noise or a hated song playing in the grocery store) has detracted from your mood. Beckerman points out that once you become aware of this, it's hard to stop!
But there's good news. According to Beckerman, "We don't have to be the victims of the soundtrack of our lives. We can actually curate it." What wise words. So get some noise cancelling headphones, or design a playlist to listen to at the grocery store. Choose your own soundtrack.
Even though it's easier to believe we're the victims of our circumstances, it's empowering to take ownership of how the world around us impacts our well-being. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, I believe that you always have a choice, and there are always things within your control that you can focus on. And when you choose to curate your life, you'll improve your well-being: it's as simple as that!