Why We Struggle with Seeing What’s Right | Celebrate What's Right With the World
Why We Struggle with Seeing What’s Right
by Lauri Gwilt
October 13, 2018 - 2:23pm

The truth is, no matter how bought-in we are with the concept of celebrating what’s right, it can still be challenging to actually do it, particularly in the areas that require more of our effort. And if we don’t explore some of the reasons for why it's challenging, we risk forming some inaccurate conclusions about the viability of seeing the world this way, or worse, about our personal ability to see in celebratory ways. This can sound something like, “Maybe I’m just not wired that way.” or “Maybe it’s a pie in the sky, Pollyanna expectation.” Maybe. But this has bugged me enough over the years to motivate me to do some exploring of my own, and what I’ve learned has helped me get better at celebrating what’s right. Maybe this information will be helpful for you too.

There are some evolutionary explanations for why we struggle with seeing the good. These explanations also help us understand how to deliberately change the way we see the world around us, and help us build our celebratory muscle. Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuropsychologist from UC Berkeley, has become one of my go-to resources for understanding why this happens to us, but most importantly, what we can do about it.

He explains that our brain is the product of 600 million years of evolution. One aspect of our brain, called the negativity bias, is constantly scanning our environment for bad news and threats. This was terrifically helpful in keeping our ancestors safe when conditions were harsh, but today it’s considered a design flaw, because the negativity bias acts like Teflon to positive experiences and like Velcro to the negative. In other words, the positive experiences slip right through our brain like water through a sieve, and the negative ones stick to us like a burr under our saddle. No wonder it can be difficult to find what’s right.

I’m sure each one of us can think of a Teflon/Velcro example when we’ve come away from an experience ruminating on that ONE THING that didn’t go well, and completely blown past all the things that did go well. And which elements from this experience tend to get stored in our long-term memory? The one bad thing we’ve spent so much time ruminating on and giving our energy to. 

The latest research in psychology and neuroscience offer tremendous hope and evidence that we can deliberately change our brain for the better and overcome the hardwired negativity bias. One of the deliberate things we can do is to schedule a few minutes a day to focus on the good. As humans we tend to pass through our successes too quickly and too lightly for them to be absorbed into our internal realities. Dr. Rick Hanson says that shifting our attention, even for a few seconds, can cause tremendous change in the brain over time. He says, “We need to hold the positive experiences for 10, 20, 30 consecutive seconds for it to truly sink in and transfer to the long-term storage in the brain.” And he’s not just referring to the big things, it’s the accumulation of the many small things in our day that influence change in our brain the most.

Dr. Hanson offers, “We can stand against the evolutionary tendencies of our brain that draw us toward negativity by deliberately stimulating the parts of our brain that do good things, thereby strengthening them.” It’s called neuroplasticity, which is a ‘fancy schmancy’ word for the ability of the brain to change throughout our lives. By controlling what our mind focuses on we can deliberately change how our brain functions. Let’s run past that one again…we can use our mind to change our brain for the better. Wow…I don’t know about you, but it excites me to know that no matter what the evolutionary tendencies of my brain are, and no matter what has happened in my past that has influenced the way I see the world, I can take control and deliberately change my brain for the better.  I have the ability to turn passing experiences into durable strengths hardwired into my nervous system. Holy crap!

Sometimes I think we can make the mistake of thinking that Celebrating What’s Right with the World is a nice idea…but sways a little to the Utopian side of things. Research such as Dr. Rick Hanson’s is giving us foundational, scientific evidence of the value of Celebrating What’s Right. Small, positive actions every day add up to large changes over time, bringing us more happiness, love, contentment, and overall well-being.

So…besides kicking the habit of scarfing back jelly donuts for breakfast, (I’m working on it) celebrating what’s right may be one of the best habits we could ever develop – for ourselves, our families and even our work teams.

P.S. The image in the post is one I took when I first met Dewitt on Molokai. After a full day of traipsing around the island with our cameras, his truck was covered in Molokai's distinctive red dirt. We walked to the back of the truck to grab our gear, but before opening the hatch he wrote the word celebrate, and I drew the happy face. And so began a lasting friendship and partnership. This image has been a wonderful metaphor...even in the muddiest of times, we can always find what's right.



The Habit of Celebration E-Course - Click here to strengthen your ability to see your life, and the world around you, in ways that fill you with joy, gratitude, and energy. 


To learn more about the work of Dr. Rick Hanson, follow this link: https://www.rickhanson.net/




Barbara Kinbackon October 14, 2018 - 6:35am

This is wonderful news, exciting to know that positivity can bring about change in the way we view things!  Celebrating the good, the positive, the successes brings us full circle to experience more celebrations. I’m thinking this is why writhing things in a diary, or on scraps of paper to put in a happiness jar all are ways of taking that moment to reinforce the positive in our brains and our way of thinking.

Thank you for your wonderful thoughts!

I could not agree more Barbara! The more we celebrate and focus on what's right around us, the more 'right' we see. I too have a happiness jar. When we write the good thing down we're getting another hit of emotion from that event or experience that helps the good thing sink in, and become stored in our long term memory, which becomes part of our self-image. I can't think of an area of our lives that this doesn't benefit. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to this conversation! 

Renie Pooleon October 14, 2018 - 8:05am

A wonderful way to approach life - celebrating the good. We all need to heed this advice. I have found, since being a part of this Celebrate family for several years now, that I find celebratory images every where I am. It doesn't matter if I'm in a spectacular mountain location or sitting in my sunroom, there's always something to celebrate. And I see it! Five years ago I didn't always see it. Thanks Lauri for the reminder.


Renie, I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am to hear your story with respect your developing your 'celebratory muscle' over the last five years. The fact it has changed how you see might be thrilling enough, but it's really just the beginning of the kind of value this way of seeing brings to our lives! Study after study report that it has a positive impact on health related issues, our relationships, as well as what we take on or go after in our personal and work lives. So...thanks Dewitt! Thanks Dr. Hanson! And thank you Renie for sharing your experience with us!

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