Here is the full transcript of Lea Waters’ TEDx Talk: Being Positive is Not for the Faint Hearted at TEDxMelbourne conference.
I want to start by sharing with you two events that radically altered my life 12 years ago, and really are the reason why I’ve become a professor in positive psychology.
The first was giving birth to my son, totally life changing. I went from spending my days at university writing a book, to spending my days at home wiping a bottom, and I loved it.
The second event is a bit confusing, really, because, unlike giving birth, it wasn’t really the kind of event that you would classify as life-altering. It was just watching the news. I was so tender-hearted from becoming a new mom that when I watched the news, I burst into tears. And you know these really messy tears where you get the red, swollen, puffy eyes and where your nose turns into an instant snot factory? I’m talking those kinds of tears.
And I’m a psychology researcher, right? So when I have these unexpected reactions, I automatically start to analyze myself. And I’m sitting there thinking, “Huh, why am I crying? It’s just the news”. But then this other question bubbled up, and I thought, “Why haven’t I cried before?” And that’s when it hit me. I’ve been manipulated by the media corporations. They’ve desensitized me, and I’ve grown to accept a news corporation’s version of human nature.
The meaner, darker version I thought, this is wrong, this is not the version of human nature that I want my son growing up to believe in. Because, actually, the vast majority of us are good and decent, that’s why we refer to ourselves as a ‘human-kind’. And it got me thinking, “What would happen if the news decided to show more stories of the positive qualities in human nature, and what impact would this have on my son’s life?” That question was transforming for me because the minute I asked that question of myself, I knew I had to be part of a solution. I had to start doing something that was creating a more positive life for my son and for all the young people in Australia.
And there is so much good news to share. For example, did you know that since 1990, we’ve lifted 11 billion people out of poverty? That’s more than three times the population size of the United States of America. And in that same time frame, we’ve provided clean water services to 26 billion people, more than the combined population of China and India.
The world is becoming a better place, but you’re not going to hear about that on the nightly news. Let me ask you a question: Would you let someone come into your house every day, and tell you that the group that you belong to are greedy, selfish, violent, and murderous? This is exactly what the news corporations do to us on a daily basis, and we believe what we’re told about ourselves. The labels that other people give us, we internalize those labels, and they shape our identity. So whether you know it or not, the news is shaping your identity. It’s infecting you.
12 years ago, I decided to stop watching the nightly news, and you may well do the same, but even if you are not actively seeking out the news, it is still having a negative impact on you because the media corporations are everywhere. You walk down the street, you’ll see the newspaper headlines plastered to the shop windows. The news is on the phone, it’s on your radios, it’s on electronic billboards at the side of the road.
A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter was unwell, and so I took her to see our local doctor. We’re sitting in the waiting room, TV’s on, it’s showing the nightly news. I’m looking around the waiting room, thinking, “All of these people are sick, they’re miserable enough, let alone having to see more bad news.”
I’m not saying that we should ignore the bad stuff, I’m just saying that it’s not all we need to know about, and that the news should be sharing with us the stories of the bad and the good events that are occurring across the globe that day. I hope you all agree with me on this, but I wouldn’t blame you if there are a few people out there wondering about this, and kind of thinking, “Really? Do we really need to hear more good news?” My answer to that, as a research psychologist, is, “Absolutely, yes”.
Firstly, because as I’ve just explained, the news is shaping your identity. But secondly, because psychology researchers have shown us that when you watch negative news, it triggers in you symptoms of worry and depression. And speaking firsthand, as someone who has suffered from depression and had therapy, I can tell you, it sucks – not the therapy actually, the therapy is quite good – but depression itself is beyond awful.
And for me, suffering from depression, it felt like I had been hollowed out from the inside, that there was nothing left on the inside of me. I was just this fragile outer shell with this scream of pain just bouncing, and echoing, and reverberating through the insides; this vast emptiness and unfathomable darkness I couldn’t eat properly, I couldn’t sleep properly, I couldn’t think properly.
I’m a researcher; I think for a living. So, as you can imagine, I’m feeling a little bit vulnerable right now, having stood up on stage and shared with 1,200 people that I’ve suffered from depression, but I’m feeling particularly vulnerable because I’m also standing up on stage criticizing the media.
And now I feel like I’ve just handed them this retaliation information, and sometime this week, the newspapers are going to have some little story in a corner that says, “Positive psychology professor fails to take our own medicine.” But this is what I can tell you. The more and more that I’ve learned about and come to understand the positive qualities in human nature, the less and less depressed I’ve become.
In fact, it’s rare these days that I have a symptom of depression at all. If you would have told me in my mid-30s that I would be depression free, almost, by my mid-40s, honestly, I would not have believed you. But learning about the best in us, that’s made me a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better colleague, a better person. And it’s done this in three really concrete ways. Learning about the best in us has helped me to clarify the type of person that I want to be: a woman who is brave, and kind, and persistent, and ethical.
Learning about the best in us has helped me to clarify the type of person I want to be in relationship with. And learning about the best in us has helped me to walk away from some unhealthy relationships in my life. I started this journey in order to help my son and my daughter. It turns out it helped me too, and not just helped me, transformed me. Because what it did was it injected hope into my bloodstream, and now I walk around every day with this healing pulse of hope.
If the news corporations were to show more positive news stories, they too could be agents of hope. We need to be asking the media to share more good news with us, and better yet, I personally think we should be demanding a whole new form of journalism, one that shows TED content on the nightly news, for example. Yeah!
But, you know, I’m a realist and I do understand that the media corporations aren’t going to change what they report to us anytime soon. So rather than asking the media to change their news, I think we need to start changing our news. We need to take on the responsibility of sharing the stories of the positive qualities in human nature.