Find the Good News

Find the Good News

Do you feel swamped with bad news?

The Practice:
Find the good news.

Why?

“Tell the truth.” It’s the foundation of science – and the foundation of healthy relationships, communities, and countries.

But the truth of things is complicated. To simplify, there is the good of things that are enjoyable and helpful, the bad of things that are painful and harmful, and the neutral of things that are neither.

We need to recognize genuinely bad news for our own sake and to take care of others. But we also need to recognize good news: things that are useful, reassuring, inspiring, opportunities, solutions, etc.

The Brain’s Negativity Bias

Unfortunately, we have a brain that generally fixates on bad news and brushes past good news. Over the 600 hundred million year evolution of the nervous system, our ancestors:

  • Had to avoid two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking that there’s a tiger in the bushes but actually all is well, or (2) thinking that all is well while actually there is a tiger about to pounce. What’s the cost of the first mistake? Just needless worry. But what’s the potential cost of the second mistake? Ulp, no more mistakes . . . forever. So we have a brain that tends to make the first mistake, again and again, to avoid ever making the second one.
  • Had to get “carrots” such as food and avoid “sticks” such as predators. Imagine living back in the Stone Age – or even Jurassic Park. If you didn’t get a carrot today, you’d have another chance tomorrow. But if you didn’t avoid every single stick today, game over. Consequently, negative experiences are fast-tracked into memory – “once burned, twice shy” – while most positive experiences slip through the brain like water through a sieve. In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

As a result, we routinely overestimate threats while underestimating opportunities and resources. Some people have an “optimism bias” in what they say. But in their actions, studies show that most people work harder to avoid pain than to get pleasure and remember failures and rejections more than successes and kindness from others. One result is that the media focuses on bad news because that’s what people pay attention to; thus, the saying in journalism is, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Living in a Bad Dream

It’s as if we live in a subtle nightmare in which the shadows and threats are close and intense while our resources and opportunities seem distant and weak. We think the dream is real, so there’s no point in trying to wake up from it. Our beliefs in the dream trap us like the bars of an invisible cage.

As many have taught, I believe that the root cause of suffering and harm is ignorance, illusion, not seeing things as they actually are. So when we wake up and see the facts and live in the light, we feel much freer, more at ease, clearer about genuine threats, and more confident about dealing with them.

Waking up and Seeing Clearly

Remember a time in your past when you realized that things were not as bad as you thought. How did it feel to wake up in this way?

For instance, I recognized in my twenties that I’d been a real nerd – but definitely not a wimp as a kid. This was a huge relief for me.

In other examples, I’ve known people who came to see that:

  •  they could be strong, and others would still like them
  •  have fun without being buzzed with drugs or alcohol
  •  most other people did not care about their appearance
  •  there’s often less standing in the way of our dreams than we think

Yes, sometimes when we wake up, it’s to bad news that we had not recognized. Perhaps you realize that you’ve hit a ceiling in your job, or you’ve been too cranky with your kids, or a friend is not trustworthy in an important way.

Living in the truth means seeing both good and bad clearly.

But because of the brain’s evolved negativity bias, most of the time when we wake up, it’s to truly good news.

How?

Recognize Bad News

To repeat, nothing I’m saying here is about positive thinking, looking on the bright side, or seeing through rose-colored glasses. We need to see real threats, real problems, at all levels. For example, as an individual, I’ve needed to see that I have to slow down some as I get older. A couple may need to see that it has to stop getting so caught up in circular arguments. Humanity altogether needs to recognize that dumping 100 million tons a day of carbon dioxide into the air is already having devastating effects that will only get worse for our children and theirs.

And – to deal with actually bad news, it really helps to recognize the good news that is also true. This puts challenges in perspective, highlights resources, and evokes the positive experiences that are the main basis for growing inner strengths such as grit, gratitude, and compassion.

Recognize When There’s No Tiger in the Bushes – Or That You Can Deal with It

Consider your fears. Especially the everyday ones, such as:

  • If I say how I really feel, people will hurt me or leave me.
  • If I ask for a raise, I’ll lose my job.
  • If I look for a partner, no one will want me.

How many of these fears are actually true? Here are three really important questions: What are the odds of them happening? If they indeed happened, how bad would it really feel? And if the unlikely event did happen and if it felt really bad, how would you cope?

Think about the many things that protect and support you, from locks to laws, friends to health insurance. (Again, this is about seeing clearly, not about overestimating the resources in your life.) In particular, think about the inner strengths that you’ve used for tough times in the past and which you could draw upon to deal with challenges today.

Recognize Opportunities

What have you always wanted to do – but told yourself is out of reach?

Ask yourself what would happen if you invested just 20 minutes a day in meditation, or in exercise, or in supportive conversation with a friend or partner – or what would happen if you invested just an hour a day in all three.

What would happen if you spent half an hour a day on some project, such as writing a book, laying the groundwork for changing careers, learning a musical instrument, or making art – and could these hours add up over a single year?

Recognize Good News About Yourself

Consider some of the many ways you have been seen, included, appreciated, liked, or loved.

Think about the people who have seen the real you – and still cared about you. Can you see yourself as another person might . . . and recognize the good heart in you, the sincere efforts, the longing for a just world, the talents and skills, the intuitions and imagination, and the innate natural goodness and wisdom inside you – and everyone else?

When we look around, things can seem overwhelming, especially at the level of society and its politics. It’s easy to get lost in helpless outrage. Few of us have the power to make sweeping changes in a country – but all of us have the power to do something each day that makes life a little better for those around us. And gradually, these efforts ripple out in widening circles, in ways seen and unseen, to touch the whole world.

Looking back over the sweep of human history, the good that has gradually developed is mainly the result of the slowly accumulating efforts of countless unnamed people. We are not helpless in our own lives! The words we speak, the attention we offer, the votes we cast, the hands we hold, the dreams we honor . . . these all matter. They matter to others, and they matter to oneself: knowing that you have done what you could in the one life you have. The effort itself is good and knowing you have made it is deeply good news.

I love these last lines in Dylan Thomas’s poem, Fern Hill:

Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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