What is the single biggest contributing factor to your own happiness?
If you ask this question to an auditorium full of people, you’re likely to get a wide range of answers ranging from wealth to security to beauty to power. We are conditioned by society and social media to think these things are what we should focus on in order to be happy, but none of these things can actually make you truly happy.
True happiness comes when the people closest to you — friends, family, and coworkers — treat you with kindness and respect. In contrast, when these people mistreat you and constantly point out negativity, it can lead you to feel sad or hurt. Unfortunately, there are some people in the world who tend to find the negative parts of anything and bring that front and center to focus on.
If you’ve found yourself frustrated by constant negativity surrounding someone close to you and are unsure how to respond to them, you’re in luck. In this article, we detail how to respond positively to negative people in your life and how to lead a happier life because of it!
Humans Are Social Creatures
Because of the exceptional social nature of our species, the quality of our interpersonal connections has a significant impact on our level of happiness.
In fact, evidence of our social nature is all around us. We care so much about what others think of us that we would rather sit through an unpleasant experience (like watching a bad movie) with people who share our opinions than watch our favorite sports team win a game in the company of people who disagree with us.
Our social nature is also the reason why falling in love is considered to be one of the most beautiful experiences and why being isolated is considered to be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life by those who have had the misfortune to go through it.
People that drive your mood down with their pessimism, worry, and general sense of distrust are said to be negative individuals. It may be excruciatingly tough to deal with negative people because of the way negativity tends to rub off on others. Imagine being told on a regular basis that “very few people make it big,” and being discouraged from following your aspirations because of this statement.
Imagine again, for example, that you were cautioned against acquiring any new skills, such as scuba diving or horseback riding, on the grounds that they were “too dangerous.” In a similar vein, being subjected on a regular basis to judgments that are unfavorable about other individuals is equally distressing and can make us feel unhappy.
The constant presence of such negativity can make significant inroads into your store of positivity, prompting you to either become negative (doubtful, nervous, and mistrustful) yourself or to become indifferent, uncaring, or even cruel towards the negative person.
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What Causes Negativity?
So then, what’s the appropriate response to a negative influence on your life? Getting away from them is one clear answer to the problem.
However, this is easier to say than to do. While we could always walk away from a bartender with a bad attitude or an airline agent with an anger-management problem, we can’t walk away from a parent, sibling, spouse, colleague, or friend who has a negative attitude.
A more practical strategy for dealing with these individuals is to start by understanding the causes behind their negativity. In a nutshell, almost all forms of negativity can be traced back to one of these three deeply ingrained phobias: the fear of being disrespected by other people, the fear of not being loved by other people, and the fear that “bad things” are going to happen.
These worries feed off each other to promote the view that “the world is a hazardous place and people are generally mean.”
It is easy to see how, from the point of view of someone who is operating from these fears, it makes sense to question the wisdom of pursuing dreams and to even be averse to taking risks — even if it is obvious that doing so is necessary to learn and grow. People who struggle with these phobias might have a hard time putting their faith in other people. These phobias that negative people carry exhibit themselves in a variety of ways, including:
A fragile ego is a tendency to take offense easily at the comments of others. One common example of this is the inability to accept a compliment. If someone says, “You look good today,” A negative person’s immediate response is, “You mean, I didn’t look good yesterday?”
Judgmentalism is the tendency to attribute negative reasons to the innocent behaviors of others; for example, someone with a judgemental attitude may think that guests who do not complement a meal are deemed to be “uncivilized brutes who do not deserve future invitations.”
An individual’s negativity could stem from a sense of helplessness regarding one’s ability to deal with life’s obstacles, leading to anxiety in facing those challenges and shame or guilt when the challenges are not met.
Negative people may lack confidence in their own capabilities, but this does not stop them from putting pressure on those closest to them to achieve success and “not let them down.”
Negative people are more likely to be able to think of ways in which an important sales call will go poorly than of ways in which it will go successfully. Pessimism is often defined as the inclination to believe that the future will be terrible no matter what.
Some people may cling to negativity due to an aversion to taking risks, particularly in social situations. This results in a reluctance to share any knowledge that could potentially be “used against me,” which, in the end, leads to dull talks and superficial relationships.
For some individuals, their negativity comes from the need to regulate the behaviors of others, particularly those of those who are close to them. Negative people tend to have strong preferences regarding menial things. Some examples include caring too much about the foods that their children should eat and how they should prepare them, to the type of automobile that their spouse should drive.
It’s important to take note of one characteristic that is shared by all of these expressions of negative thinking: the propensity to place blame for one’s poor attitudes on external causes, such as other people, the surrounding environment, or even luck, rather than on oneself. Negative people have a tendency to think, If only people recognized my true worth, and this leads to negative thinking.
The Best Ways to Respond to Negativity
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Though a person’s proclivity towards negativity can stem from a variety of different causes, dealing with their negativity can really be boiled down to three components: having compassion for the negative person, accepting responsibility for your own happiness in spite of the other person’s negativity, and acting maturely in your interactions with the negative person.
Being compassionate entails caring for someone while giving the negative individual very little advice on changing their behavior at all. It is also important to refrain from giving them advice on the reasons behind their pessimism at all times.
The majority of us are not very adept at absorbing constructive criticism, and people who are already negative are especially resistant to receiving such criticism. If the negative person is having an effect on you, it may be tough for you to refrain from reacting in some way to them, especially if their negativity is completely ruining your day. But it’s important to let them know that you care instead of telling them to quit.
Venting your frustrations or “getting it off your chest” will not solve the issue but rather make it worse. It may be helpful to keep in mind that although you will only have to interact with the negative person for a limited amount of time, they will have to interact with themselves on a continuous basis. Having this awareness may make it easier for you to respond to them compassionately, even if that response is to do nothing at all.
Prioritize Your Own Happiness
It is absolutely critical that you maintain composure and defend your own happiness in the face of negativity. This could mean adopting a set of more positive attitudes, but that alone may not be sufficient to deal with a constant barrage of negativity.
One way to prioritize your happiness is to take time away from the negative person periodically in order to retain your composure. It’s important to note that you don’t want the negative person to have the impression that you are trying to avoid them, so it’s possible that you may need to devise an appropriate excuse in the event that you do take time away from them.
You can also make it your mission to exude a positive attitude. This will allow you to protect yourself from the onslaught of animosity from a negative individual. Affirm your own positivity by occasionally doing good things for a person who is generally negative. This doesn’t have to be a huge thing. You could simply compliment them on something they’ve done well or steer a conversation toward a time when they were content and things were going well for them.
Someone’s negative attitude can be lessened with even the smallest of actions. They could discover joy in their lives at some point in the future, but if they don’t, so be it. You may reinforce a positive mindset in yourself and in the world around you by engaging in acts of kindness toward other people.
As long as your expectations are grounded in the actual world, you can have a healthy and successful relationship with a negative person. However, do not anticipate significant shifts to occur overnight. You are the one person you can influence, so put all of your attention on being happy with yourself. Conquer your challenges and keep an optimistic attitude.
Demonstrate Emotional Maturity
The final component, emotional maturity, involves having the insight that the most dependable approach to move a negative person towards positivity is to express the positivity yourself.
For example, blaming the person who is negative for making you feel negative is not going to help. In fact, it would be particularly ironic if you told the negative person to “stop blaming others for your negativity” if you are the one who is blaming them for bringing down your mood!
So then, how do you exemplify positive attitudes that you want this negative person to exhibit without crossing a line and sounding preachy or judgmental?
The most important thing is to give off the impression that you are completely confident whenever you can. In other words, behave in a way that is consistent with someone who is loved and respected by other people and who has essential facets of their life under control. This means that you should not let the negativity of others inhibit your natural tendency to pursue your dreams, take healthy risks, and trust others.
However, you should be careful that you’re not feigning confidence to prove a point. Rather, you should tap into a space of authenticity from which it seems natural to behave in a spontaneous, positive, and trusting manner.
Authenticity can be tapped into by imagining yourself as a person who has nothing to hide and who has nothing to prove. Then, when the negative person makes a suspicious or cynical comment — which they undoubtedly will — make sure to take the time to explain why you chose to act in the manner that you did.
Be a Positive Force to Be Reckoned With
At the end of the day, we cannot control how anyone else feels, acts, or thinks. People are always going to cling to negativity because it makes them feel better and acts as a scapegoat for their deeply ingrained fears. All we can do is manage our own outlook on life and live with as much positivity as possible.
When you shine bright, you will inspire others to adopt a positive attitude.