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Joyful Aging: Carole Carson — Digging for ponies to counter negativity

By Carole Carson | Special to The Union

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of “Joyful,” says, “Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully?”

As long as we’re living, we have no choice about whether or not to get older. But we can choose whether our days will be bitter or joyful. If we choose joyfulness, we have to overcome the nearly universal bias toward negativity.

No doubt you’ve noticed that news, whether distributed in print or electronically, is generally bad. In fact, 90% of all media news is negative.



One Russian website attempted a social experiment where only positive articles were published for 24 hours. The writers were shocked when they lost two-thirds of their readers!

Why are we more attracted to negativity than positivity? Psychologists tell us that our brains are wired that way. When we have two experiences — one good and one bad — the negative experience will have a greater impact on us. Good news simply doesn’t make as much of an impression as bad news.



A restaurant, for example, may serve delicious food, give prompt service, keep the restrooms sparkling clean, and charge reasonable prices. But if a single aspect of a diner’s experience fails to hit the mark — even if 95% of the service is excellent — the customer will remember the negative incident.

Moreover, the disgruntled customer won’t suffer in silence. A dissatisfied customer will tell nine to 15 people about the bad experience. Satisfied customers, on the other hand, tell four to six people about their positive experience.

Research on the brain confirms that when we hear negative information, our brain has a surge of activity. We even perceive bad news as more truthful than good news.

SURVIVAL AT STAKE

Psychologists tell us that our predilection for the negative over the positive is a survival technique. Ancestors who paid attention to danger were less likely to be attacked by a predatory animal or to eat a poisonous plant. Focusing on the negative was a way to stay safe.

Given this evolutionary advantage, it’s understandable that our behaviors and attitudes tend to be shaped more powerfully by bad news, experiences, and information. The problem arises when we remain unaware of this bias and let our world be dominated by negativity.

Much has been written about how to shift our focus to the positive. We’re encouraged to eat healthfully, exercise regularly, socialize with friends and family, help others in need, get outdoors in nature, and attend to our spiritual needs.

We can also benefit from Ingrid Lee’s ideas in “Joyful” where she shows readers how to tap into the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness.

MY SOLUTION: LISTING ’PONIES’

All of this is good advice. For my part, I rely on a daily routine that never fails to shift my mood — however negative — to a positive one. It involves my morning ritual of creating my pony list, a reference to a story from Ronald Reagan’s time as governor of California.

When Reagan’s staff reported overwhelming statewide problems, Reagan was reported as saying that given the piles of manure seemingly everywhere, they’d better start digging because “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

During my morning ritual, I dig through recent activities and events until I find the ponies, the hidden gems of joy. Sometimes I’m simply grateful for being alive or for my cup of hot, steaming coffee. Or I’m happy to be writing with my favorite ink pen.

Sometimes I’m grateful for a major event — like the birth of a healthy grandchild. But more often than not, the joys I list are small, simple ones that, if I didn’t dig for them, would go unnoticed and unappreciated.

As a result of my daily excavations, I confirm the truth of what David Steindl-Rast, an American Benedictine monk, says: “The root of joy is gratefulness.”

Going forward, I’ll continue to enrich myself by taking less for granted and having more gratitude. If you want to age more joyfully, consider starting your day with a pony list.

Carole Carson, of Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: carolecarson41@gmail.com

Carole Carson

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