Your Brain Latches onto the Bad Stuff by Design
At some point in the last year you've spoken to a woman with supermodel looks who would not stop talking about how horrible it was that she had gained half a pound or had a faint pimple on her forehead. You realized that this was a person who somehow could look at her fashion-magazine face in the mirror and only see the pimple. It's so annoying -- why can't she just focus on the positive?
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Seconds after this photo, she started ringing the bell frantically and shouting, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"
But of course, we all do it to varying degrees -- you might pass 5,000 cars on your morning commute, and 4,999 of them might be perfect, polite drivers. But then you pass that one guy in the SUV who literally stuck his buttocks out of his side window and took a flying shit on your hood. When you get to work, are you going to talk about the 4,999 good drivers or the flying hood shitter? You're going to focus on the negative, because your brain is hardwired to devote more attention to the misery in life.
Researchers have found this in a laboratory setting: They can show participants pictures of angry and happy faces, and the participants will identify the angry faces much faster than the happy ones. How much faster, you ask? So fast, we answer, that the participants had no conscious recollection of ever seeing the faces. That's right -- your brain already identified the shit parts of your day before you even knew it. You have a sixth sense for misery.
"Wait, my 'everything sucks' sense is tingling."
And that was a great ability to have back when evolution was deciding which of us would reproduce and which would get eaten -- we needed a brain tuned to spot threats. Giggling at the butterflies instead of running from the tiger puts you in the express lane through the tiger's intestinal tract. We focus on the negative because it's the negative shit that gets us killed -- there was no evolutionary advantage to stopping to smell the roses. But this has left us with a brain that not only devotes our attention to the bad stuff, but also makes us remember it a lot better. Think about the implications in your everyday life -- you can wind up walking away from a pretty good job or relationship because you only remember the bad times.