How do you handle good things that happen to you? Do you relish in the success or let your mind go to something that brings you down? You might be inadvertently sabotaging your own happiness by allowing negative thoughts to creep in when something good comes your way.
For instance, consider something good in your life – a small accomplishment on your work project, the desire for the chocolate ice cream cone you are ordering, the joy of your team winning a game, or the connection you feel with the person you are talking to. You can then amplify the positive of any of these by savoring and focusing on the good feelings. Or, you can deflate and dampen the positive by minimizing the good. This happens in your thinking. It is an automatic response. Researchers refer to these as up-regulation and down-regulation.
Negative, Dampening Thoughts
Some of your negative thoughts can absolutely crush your positive feelings and in turn, make you more vulnerable to negative mood states. If you want to feel bad and dampen a good experience you are having, then try on these 7 dampening thoughts that researchers have been studying:
1. I don’t deserve this.
2. These good feelings won’t last.
3. My streak of being lucky is soon going to end.
4. There are so many things that could go wrong.
5. This is too good to be true for me.
6. People will think I’m bragging if I share the positive.
7. Lots of things have gone wrong for me in the past.
If you have many of these thoughts often – especially when a positive experience arises – you might be more vulnerable to depression or other struggles in mental health. It seems that the more you agree with these 7 statements the more you may have trouble finding joy in your experiences.
As we know from scores of psychological studies, our negativity mindset is more contagious and powerful than our positivity mindset. We need a lot of skills to counterbalance our brain’s wiring for what’s wrong. Many approaches have shown to be helpful, from character strengths use and mindfulness meditation, to acceptance approaches and cognitive-behavioral work.
Developing a New Mindset
If you are getting lost in some or all of these 7 thoughts, let’s take a look at how your character strengths can help you. Remember that your character strengths are more resilient than your positive thoughts or your feelings of joy and excitement. Because character strengths are stable parts of your personality, they are a perfect foundation for creating a strong and mindful mindset. While “thinking positive” (which was proven ineffective in these studies) is as transient as leaves blowing by in the wind, your character strengths are part of you – ready and waiting to be manifested, over and over again.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Catch your mind when it enters into the dampening zone. You can become more mindful of what’s going on in your mind and watch out for these 7 thoughts, learn from them, and manage them. Use your character strength of curiosity to be tuned into the negative or dark places your mind may enter. Notice, with curiosity, when your mind wanders away from the positive experience at hand, and come back to your senses. Come back to being curious about what you see and hear and smell. Focus on one positive detail – be curious and interested in it.
- Check and challenge the dampening thought you are having. Use your judgment/critical thinking strength to check the dampening thought of “I don’t deserve this” with a question: Is this thought realistic and accurate? How is it true or untrue? Your judgment will help you be rational and logical about the validity of the thought. And, use your perseverance strength to challenge your thoughts and stick with your back-talk to yourself: Are people really going to think you’re bragging? Is it really bragging when you share a positive emotion?
- Correct and accept your new reality. Use your strengths of self-kindness and self-fairness to view the positive and negative realities about your thoughts in a fair way. Your kindness-turned-inward can prevent unnecessary self-deprecation and provide you a gentler approach to yourself as you face the more balanced reality.
Dunn, B. D., Burr, L. A., Smith, H. B., Hunt, A., Dadgostar, D., Dalglish, L., & … Werner-Seidler, A. (2018). Turning gold into lead: Dampening appraisals reduce happiness and pleasantness and increase sadness during anticipation and recall of pleasant activities in the laboratory. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 10719-10733. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2018.05.00
Feldman, G. C., Joormann, J., & Johnson, S. L. (2008). Responses to positive affect: A self report measure of rumination and dampening. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 507–525.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenaeuer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323–370. http://doi.org/10.1037/1089-26184.108.40.2063
Rozin, P., & Royzman E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296–320.