I recently returned from a reunion with my husband’s family. It was wonderful to have everyone together and to have the opportunity to share stories. One afternoon, I was sitting outside with my father-in-law and he was sharing some family memories with me. One of his stories, filled my heart with appreciation for his wisdom and capacity for appreciating the positive things in life.
His story was about going for a drive with one of his grandchildren when they were young. All the little one was doing from the back seat of the car was complaining and pointing out what was wrong with the scene around them. They were saying things like “look at that barn, who paints a barn red, what a stupid colour to paint a barn.” My father-in-law said that he grew tired of this litany of negative comments coming from the back seat when they were trying to have a pleasant afternoon drive. So, he pulled the car over to the side of the road and told the child that they were not allowed to make one more comment that was negative and that he only wanted to hear comments like ‘look at that red barn, I wonder who had the idea to paint their barn red?’
What he was encouraging the child to do was to become curious about the world around them rather than create judgments about the world around them. He wanted his grandchild to be filled with wonder rather than negativity. He wanted to teach his grandchild how to see the positive in life and to find the joy.
I listened to this story and thought that is was such an act of kindness to offer this teaching to his grandchild.
We always have the choice about the lens through which we are viewing life, yet our default programming is to look for the negative. Neuroplasticity research calls this the Negativity Bias. Our brains are hard-wired to see what is wrong with any situation. This is a defense mechanism we have that is intended to keep us safe by warning us about possible danger. Yet, when we are in situations in which we are perfectly safe and we are still focused on what is wrong, this Negativity Bias can be detrimental to our happiness and to the happiness of those around us.
Listening to my father-in-law recount this story, made me think of the childhood game ‘I Spy with My Little Eye Something that is (fill in the blank). We get to choose in each moment how to respond to what we spy with our little eye. We can choose curiosity, we can choose appreciation, we can choose compassion; all of which soften and open our hearts and minds to the wonder of the world around us. Research has shown that cultivating positivity in this way can enhance our capacity to feel happiness and well-being. On the other hand, we can choose to judge what we see, we can choose to criticize and we can form negative opinions. From my experience, this approach leads to hardening my heart and separates me from the beauty of life.
This little conversation with my father-in-law is one of my favourite memories from our reunion last week. I will continue to savour this story and the wisdom that my father-in-law has passed down to his grandchildren and shared with me.
How about having some fun playing ‘I Spy’ today?
See what you can find to get curious about in the Life that is going on around you.