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When I Don’t Whine, I Cry: How Negativity Bullies Us

conquest of happiness

Conquest of happiness (Photo credit: the waving cat)

Negativity drags us down like a midnight rendezvous with a dirty martini at an empty bar.  And the worst part? We don’t even realize we’ve been intoxicated by it. This isn’t just blatant negativity, like griping about a co-worker who swears she has Lupus every time she sneezes—this is the culture of negativity that seems to have seeped in under our doors while we we’re sleeping, essentially re-setting our “normal” button to a steady level of self-deprecation.

As with many life lessons I’ve learned in the past two years, I realized just how gripping this new-age pessimism was during an elevator ride at my apartment building. As I came home on a Friday (after a long week of work) I slipped into the elevator with a tall, crop-pant wearing woman, roughly the age of a seasoned mom. We stood in silence for three floors. Then in a sweet voice the woman asked me how I was doing, to which I replied with a groan and an explanation that the week just dragged. And what did she say back to me, with her cheery voice and a smile that rivaled a kid at Disney World? “Well, congratulations—you did it!” At first I thought she was being sarcastic, but as she continued to sincerely smile at me, I realized that she was completely serious. What? What is this verbal pat on the back that threw me back to grade school? It felt like someone had just stuck a Great Work! sticker on my shirt and gave me a round of applause. Here I was reveling in the misery of week, and this woman had the nerve to come along and turn my frown upside down!

And this wasn’t the only elevator ride that jolted me from my clouded mind. Another day, on my way home from work, I was asked the same question—this time from a gentleman. Of course I replied that I was really happy the work day was over, that I was bored from sitting in an office, and glad that the misery was coming to an end.  And what did this guy have the gall to say? “Oh that’s a shame. You really should enjoy what you do.” My equilibrium was completely thrown. Why was he not following the social convention of complaining about the weather or your job when engaged in small-talk? And what was this work-enjoyment thing he was trying to press on me? Keep it to yourself, man.

So when did negativity become the norm? At some point we stopped praising all the great things we do, like getting through a tough work-week, and instead began criticizing our missteps. Our bosses don’t send us emails telling us we’re fantastic and hardworking employees—they walk over to our desks and criticize us for incorrectly filling out the TPS report. And they certainly aren’t going to say You did it! at the end of the week; they’re going to assume you did, or fire you on Monday if you didn’t.

How much more successful and happy would we be if we re-implemented positivity in our lives? What would happen if I brushed off my co-worker’s hypochondriac behavior and make thought-space for something more valuable? What about if we looked in the mirror and congratulated ourselves for our toned triceps, instead of thinking about yesterday’s doughnut that went straight to our thighs? And what if—brace yourself—we told elevator strangers that we are actually doing really well and had a good week at work?

Maybe the key to shifting the paradigm of negativity lies in the policy of “fake it ‘till you make it,” until eventually we push the “normal” button back to a steady stream of happiness. Will this permanently alter the current aura that’s hanging over modern society?

And most importantly, what will become the future of elevator small-talk?

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