As I discussed in a couple of  previous posts: Forgetting the GoodTtimes – How to to Savour Them Longer and 1 Simple Tip for Lasting Love,  focusing on the positives in your relationship can have a profound impact on your level of relationship satisfaction. Building a habit of recalling your partner’s positive attributes (e.g. they make you laugh, they work hard to deliver the money the family needs or they take the time to visit and support their family and friends) even just once a day can really help keep the relationship (and the romance) alive.

But how do you do this when your mind consistently recalls the negatives – how your partner was late home AGAIN, the fact that they leave stuff lying around everywhere and have been grumpy for what seems like months?

How do you actually think positive when humans seem to have a natural tendency to focus on the negative? Fortunately, some clever scientists have been working on this problem. One of them is Alison Ledgerwood, Associate Professor within the Department of Psychology at the University of California,  Davis (UC, Davis).

Alison and her colleagues conducted some experiments to look at what happens when you try to switch from one way of thinking about something to the opposite way of thinking. The classic example is looking at a glass of water containing about half of its capacity and thinking about it being either half full or half empty. Turns out, humans hang onto the negative a lot more than they do the positive. They find it much easier to go from good to bad than from bad to good. Politicians and the media take advantage of this all the time. For example, a politician might frame a statistic in the positive e.g. “45% of students are doing better than the global average in maths”. If you flip that, 55% of students are either doing worse or the same as the global average (or there’s something else going on – like they didn’t participate in the testing). Suddenly it doesn’t sound so good and because humans find it hard to switch from bad to good, if they hear the negative version of the statistic first then their overall response is negative, even if they are later told about the positive view.

Humans have to work harder to see the the upside of things, but it is possible to train yourself. Other research out of U.C. Davis shows that just writing what you are grateful for over a few minutes a day can dramatically boost your happiness.

The bottom line is: If you focus on the positives in your life and relationship and actively discuss them with others (including your partner!) and do actions that reinforce the positives to yourself you can reshape how you view things.

Alison discusses her research and suggestions for being more positive in her excellent TED talk – in the video below or on Youtube.

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