Even after being in the field of therapy for nearly 24 years, I still can't help but feel unsettled and completely caught off guard every time I hear someone say, "I hate people."
This negatively charged statement causes me to involuntarily sit up straight in my chair because, at my core, it can be difficult to fathom. Sure, people can frustrate, hurt and anger one another, but the vast majority of us are doing the best we can.
Over the years, I've found that many people who proclaim their hatred are simply attempting to express frustration, or they erroneously believe it will protect them from pain. In today's world of constant change, fear and uncertainty, it has become an increasingly common behavior.
However, this pessimistic worldview carries unnecessarily harmful consequences; it can keep people stuck in a defensive, narrow and unhelpful posture. As a result, it can negatively affect both their work and personal lives.
Researchers have found that this type of cynicism can also show up as a temporary symptom of burnout: When we are living in a state of time scarcity and overwhelm, we lose sight of our values and need for connection, and other humans can begin to feel like distractions and stressful obligations.
Our beliefs are powerful in that we unknowingly morph thoughts into facts. We also unconsciously search our environment for further evidence that our beliefs are true. If we are holding firm that "people suck" (another one that raises my hackles), we will certainly find evidence to back up that claim.
Conversely, if we believe people are innately good, we will encounter more validation to fill up that bucket of beliefs. Wouldn't you much rather live in a world with benevolent folks?
Fortunately, our mindset around this is largely under our control. Regardless of our overall worldview of humanity, with brief practices we can shift it more toward the positive.
Research backs up this assertion. According to a study led by Barbara Fredrickson, a professor who researches positive emotion, adopting a "loving-kindness meditation ritual can produce positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect."
("Hedonic treadmill," also called "hedonic adaptation," is what psychologists refer to as the human tendency to quickly become used to changes — positive or negative — in order to maintain a stable level of happiness.)
According to Fredrickson and her team of researchers, when we experience more positivity, we are more receptive to social support and live longer, happier and more successful lives. Overall, these benefits promote increased life satisfaction and a reduction in depression and other health issues.
It is certainly more challenging to summon and bestow kindness when you are busy or overwhelmed, especially for those who have that "I hate people" mentality.
But by taking a quick and mindful break, you can usher some feel-good, contagious compassion into any part of your day — and significantly boost your happiness at the same time.
- Sit for a few minutes with eyes open or closed. Wish happiness for yourself and allow that intention to assimilate.
- Choose someone for whom it's easy to send kindness. Perhaps it's a loved one or good friend. Wish this person happiness. Notice any body sensations that arise as you do. Imagine how they might feel receiving it.
- Choose a neutral person, someone you don't know well. Now wish them happiness.
- If you are feeling brave, choose a somewhat difficult person and send them this kindness. Remind yourself that this person, like you, really just wants to be happy. If you observe resistance or tightening in the body, take a deep breath and relax those muscles. This is a gentle practice not meant to be forced.
- Finally, imagine wishing happiness for all people in the world, including yourself. Send it as far and wide as you would like to imagine.
I urge you to do this exercise every day for a week — in the mornings, at work, or in the evenings — and watch your capacity for kindness and compassion expand.
Shonda Moralis, MSW, LCSW, is psychotherapist, award-winning author and women's mindful empowerment coach with over 20 years of experience. Her newest book, "Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All," published by The Experiment, offers insight into how to ditch your stress without losing it all.
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