Most people see themselves as kind, socially positive individuals. However, remaining a nice, generous person becomes increasingly difficult when you’re faced with negativity. It’s almost silly how someone cutting you off in traffic can really ruin your day. That is why Harvard social scientist Arthur C. Brooks’s article in The Atlantic suggests using a different strategy. Based on his years of research, Brooks argues that in order to be kind and remain kind, you must respond to any negativity with positivity. He suggests that smiling, giving an encouraging compliment and lending a helping hand will make you happier in the end.
- Being kind makes you happy, but negative disruptions make it hard to stay positive.
- Responding to negativity with kindness breaks the negative feedback loop.
Being kind makes you happy, but negative disruptions make it hard to stay positive.
Most people consider themselves to be nice people. In fact, according to a British study, 98% of people think of themselves as kind individuals. However, your kind demeanor may come crashing down when you’re treated unkindly. It’s only natural for people to respond to meanness with some sort of defense. For instance, you might wake up in a great mood, but then your spouse makes a critical comment at breakfast, and the next thing you know you’re in a big fight.
“Usually, we behave poorly because others are not nice to us.”
Furthermore, your goal to continue to be nice and kind becomes even more challenging when you come across people who seek to punish “prosocial” behavior. “Internet Trolls” – people who enjoy ruining a good mood and spreading negativity – can make it almost impossible to remain positive because their whole objective is to upset you. For example, you might post an inspirational quote on social media only to have some troll respond two minutes later with a post about how stupid you are.
While retaliating with insults is easy, that would just trap you in a cycle of negativity. In fact, you can see this in American politics today. Political campaigns and rallies seem to be aimed only at tearing down the other party, not at discussing society’s real issues. Steering away from such this divisiveness and breaking the cycle of negativity is more important than ever.
Responding to negativity with kindness breaks the negative feedback loop.
Although it may feel counterintuitive, responding to negativity with kindness actually makes you happier. However, responding with positivity and optimism when negativity is targeting you takes practice.
“We need to keep the good feedback going…”
Put your kindest foot forward and ignore the negativity by taking three steps:
- Begin the cycle – Start every morning with the intention to be nice. Do something kind such as letting someone go ahead of you in traffic. If you face unkind behavior, such as that someone making a rude gesture to you after you let them into your lane, restart the loop by responding with a smile. Break the negativity right then and there.
- Avoid disruptions – You can’t avoid every negative interaction, but if you work in a toxic office, live in a rough neighborhood or spend too much time on rage-filled social media, then consider making a big change. Being kind is very hard if you dread your work, live around angry people or consume a steady diet of negative content.
- Don’t be the disruptor – If you’re already in a bad mood, don’t make it someone else’s problem. If you do happen to ruin somebody’s good mood, apologize immediately. This will help you get back into a positive behavior feedback loop.
While staying kind largely falls into each single individual’s hands, perhaps if more people consciously made the effort, whole communities eventually would become happier, healthier and less divided.
About the Author
Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks, PhD, is also the author of Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America and How We Can Get More of It; From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life; Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt; and Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.