I’ve been observing groups of people quite a bit this past month; mostly while doing workshops with clients and attending a weeklong residency for my Ph.D. program. Spending time with people in these settings has reminded me of how much people like to complain.
For example, as my workshop attendees gathered in the room and I asked how people were doing or what was new, I would receive any of these answers: “I’m exhausted.” “Traffic was awful today.” “I’m okay, tired but okay.” These are the same conversations I’d overhear between individuals as people gathered and said hello to each other.
Or, when I would gather with my fellow-Ph.D. students and ask the same question, the answers were similar “I didn’t sleep last night.” “I’m struggling with my professor in this class.” “I’m stressed about my dissertation proposal.” Etc… I got a little frustrated about the same negative answers each day, so on the last day with my Ph.D. colleagues I said, “Tell me something GOOD!”
And, guess what? They did!
It got me thinking that it’s interesting how comfortable we are sharing what’s wrong or bad in our lives but seem less likely to say, “I’m great!” or “I’m well rested and slept great last night.”
We seem to like to commiserate over what’s wrong instead of celebrating what’s going well (or at least this has been my recent observation). So, that also got me thinking, what if I didn’t ask the general questions of, “how are you” or, “what’s new?” And instead said, “tell me something good today” or, “what are you excited about today?”
I decided to do this with my workshop attendees and the entire mood of the room shifted before we began our workshop. They were lighter and more engaged than when I asked them “how’s everyone doing?” or, “what’s new this week?” By forcing them to think of and share something good they generated more positive feelings that spread to everyone in the room.
I think it’s natural for us to focus on the negative since unfortunately, that is the norm in our culture. Turn on the news, and it’s about everything wrong in the world. I know that some news reports will add the good news snippets, but they’re never the headline. They’re always at the end. However, we can change that in our personal lives, simply by deciding that we’re going to make our headlines about what’s good. It doesn’t mean the bad stuff doesn’t exist. Yes, we may be tired or stressed or in pain. But we can choose to focus on what’s good before highlighting the bad.
In fact, I challenge you to go 24 hours without complaining about anything. Every time you open your mouth and start to complain, shut it down. Stop yourself and instead, say something positive. Then do it again for another 24 hours until your habit is to share the good stuff first. You may slip up the first day or two, especially if you (like most of us) are used to sharing what’s wrong instead of what’s good as your headline. Keep at it, and you may just be the person who brightens up every room you enter!
Oh, and try this too: don’t ask people how they are, ask them to tell you something good! It’s a great way to start a positive conversation with one person or an entire group.