Here’s the truth: Human beings are naturally negative. When you’re driving down the freeway and there’s a wreck, people will sit in a long line complaining about the people up ahead who are rubbernecking to get a look. But when those complainers get up there, they’re the ones doing the rubbernecking. This is why when you turn on the TV, you see negative news. It’s what people want to watch.
We used to have a dog named Izzy that we got from the pound. I live on a 50-acre farm that backs up to a 400-acre dairy. Izzy was a good dog, but he was an escape artist. When he got out of the fence, there was no getting him back. He’d be gone for a while. He would always run to the dairy and wallow in the smelliest, messiest stuff he could find. When Izzy would come back, I’d have to put a clothespin on my nose to bathe him.
Anyone who’s ever had a dog that lived in the country knows if they get out and there’s something that smells bad, they’re going to wallow in it.
Humans are that way, too. I don’t know why we’re that way, but negative gossip, sensational stories—that’s what people are attracted to. It’s the reason celebrities are such a big deal. What you read is the low points of their lives, whether they’re going to rehab or getting divorced for the eighth time.
So the first thing you need to understand about negativity is that you’re fighting against human nature. You’ve got to fight it consistently if you want to win. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Take control of what goes on in your brain.
When you wake up in the middle of the night worried about something, you’ve got to wrestle the control back and turn your thoughts around. Read something positive. Speak well about yourself and your circumstances. Fertilize the positive and weed out the negative self-talk.
You’ve got to surround yourself with uplifting, positive people. You are going to think just like the people you’re around the most. If you’re spending your whole life around negative, sour, cynical people, guess what? You’re going to become negative, sour and cynical. Spend time with people who build you up.
Life is short. If you’re waiting on circumstances to make you happy, you’ll never be happy. If you’re waiting to have plenty of money, get married or get the kids out of the house, you’re fooling yourself. The same circumstance you were all balled up and worried about five or 10 years ago, you can’t even remember now.
I’m not saying there aren’t tragedies in life that take us out for a while. But that’s not what most of us are dealing with. When I think about the happiest time in my adult life, it was when we were in our 30s. Our kids were 2 1/2 and 4 years old. They were so sweet at that age. My mom and dad were both healthy and with us. We lived in a nice little house with a garden in the backyard. It was just an incredibly happy time in my life.
I didn’t have much money. I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now, financially. It was tough living on one salary, and I’m sure I was worried about all kinds of things. But as I look back, I just remember being so happy. Life was great. It had nothing to do with whether we could afford a nice car or jet off to Paris. You’ve got to work on the realization that 90 percent of the stuff you’re worried about right now would be insignificant if you found out tomorrow was your last day. As long as I’m working to make a positive difference in the world, I’m happy. And you can be, too.
You might be thinking, I’m just not that happy-go-lucky kind of a person. Fine. Then just act like it for a while. I once had a pastor who said, “Act the way you want to feel and soon you’ll feel the way you act.” This means you can reprogram yourself. Smile. Say nice things to other people. Even if you’re dealing with a horrible situation, you’ll be more successful in that battle if you’re positive. So get some objectivity about how big your problem is in relation to the big picture. Then smile until you actually feel like smiling.
The most important thing to recognize is when you’re giving in to negativity and when you’re being positive. If you pay attention, you can work on yourself, change your self-talk, surround yourself with supportive people and let situations go rather than dwell on them. Over time, your health, your work and your relationships will grow more positive.
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This post originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.