We all know people who are chronically unhappy, no matter what circumstances they might be going through. Negativity seems to be the name of their game. As a normally positive person who is perhaps too quick to see the silver lining in a situation, I find this attitude frustrating. I wish I could bring such a person around to my point of view, show them that the world is a more rewarding, forgiving and happier place than what they would like to believe.
Of late, I began to wonder if we control our emotional wiring. Not our emotional state which of course is changeable according to temporary external stimuli, such as stress at work, a disagreement with a co-worker, an unexpected financial hit, children falling sick etc. Emotional wiring refers to our disposition as individuals. Are we born negative or do we become negative as a result of our experiences to the extent that we cannot recognize positive life experiences?
An Australian study by Bruce Headey and Alexander Wearing (1989) on subjective well-being posited that we have a ‘wellbeing baseline’ that we return to despite the emotional fluctuations brought about by life events. The pioneering neuroscientist Richard Davidson, author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain, can tell by scanning a person’s brain how likely he or she is to be positive or negative, resilient, self-aware or socially sensitive.
It might be easy to think that you are stuck with the emotional blueprint you are born with. However, even if you think you are genetically predisposed to 50 per cent of your emotions, then what controls the other 50 per cent?
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Professor of Psychology from the University of California and Ken Sheldon, a Professor of Psychological Science at the University of Missouri teamed up to answer just this question. They demonstrated through 51 randomized interventions, that people can learn to be happier and more positive. Their research showed that people prompted to engage in intentional positive activities, such as thinking gratefully, mindfully and positively reported being significantly happier.
Of course, underlying all this, and at the core of becoming a happier and more positive personality, is the need to identify that you are at the negative side of the emotional spectrum. Without this realization, no amount of research or positivity-boosting mental exercises will help in changing your emotional state!