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.
When we share good news, we inject the healing pulse of hope into our families, our friends, our neighbors, our schools, our workplaces. Have you ever wondered why it is when the Olympics are on, you see so many more people out running on the street? And have you ever taken out running when the Olympics are on? I know I have.
Psychologists explain this phenomenon using the elevation effect, and simply put, the elevation effect occurs when we witness excellence in another. It inspires and elevates us to also want to strive for excellence. So when we’re watching the Olympics, and we’re seeing all these examples of physical and athletic excellence, it inspires us. It elevates us to also want to become fitter and stronger, and so we take up exercise.
Well, here’s the interesting thing. Psychologists have also found that we don’t just have the elevation effect when we witness physical excellence, we also have the elevation effect when we witness moral excellence. When we witness great acts of kindness or courage, it inspires and elevates us to also want to be kinder and braver ourselves. There are lots of examples of the elevation effect being triggered by moral excellence, but one example that we all know about is Nelson Mandela.
His moral excellence, his capacity for forgiveness elevated an entire country, and shifted them from an apartheid regime to a democratic government. I’m not saying that we can all be like Nelson Mandela, I’m not even saying we can all know someone like Nelson Mandela, but what I am saying is that you can all train yourself to look for the examples of everyday excellence that are all around us; that every day moral excellence when we see the people around us being brave, and kind, and acting with integrity, and honesty, and teamwork, and leadership.
We can train ourselves to look for the examples of moral excellence, and we can share those stories. A few weeks ago, I caught public transport, and in the space of ten minutes, I saw three young people stand up and offer their seats to senior citizens. That’s everyday moral excellence, and I tweeted about that.
If you share those examples of everyday moral excellence, you are triggering hope, and you are triggering the elevation effect. But you’re doing more than that because researchers have also found that when you share positive news on your social media sites, 64% of your network will respond with happiness. So if you want to make people happy, share good news. And the research goes further than that because we’ve also discovered, in the field of positive psychology, that positive emotions are contagious. We literally catch positive emotions of other people.
So when you post good news up onto your social media site, the researchers have found that those positive emotions spread through your networks by up to three degrees of separation. What that means is if you share positive news, you’re making your friend happy, you’re making your friend’s friend happy, and you’re making your friend’s friend’s friend happy. Your one simple act of sharing good news sets off a positive ripple effect beyond what you could imagine.
I’m not advocating for blind optimism, and I’m not saying we should ignore the world’s problems, but what I am saying is we will have a better understanding and a better perspective of the world’s problems if we also understand the world’s strengths. The media corporations are not going to share with us the stories of our strengths because it’s not in their interest to do that; but we can share those stories with each other.