The most important question we can ask has been attributed to Albert Einstein, whether accurately or falsely. Regardless of who said it this question carries immense weight and possibility if contemplated. This question is, “Is the universe a friendly place?”
Seems simple enough at face value. On first glance it looks like a question of whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. And the answer to that would be, both. As humans we ebb and flow between optimism and pessimism, certainly. It can be really helpful to take a step back and look at our general orientation to our world and our experience of it. Do you have a more optimistic or pessimistic set point? What is the significance of taking a look at that and being able to change that or influence how you view the world and your experience in it?
I want us to focus here on looking at how this question relates to the “negativity bias.” To evolve, we had to focus on what might eat us, or what was dangerous or potentially threatening in our environment in order to avoid being harmed. This is also the same hard-wiring that has also lead us to being anxious and stressed about things that aren’t life-threatening and our inability to self-regulate our psychological and physiological responses to stressors is now a growing hindrance to our psychological and emotional well-being.
The quote that is attributed to Einstein goes on to say, “For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly.”
And further, “But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe.”
If we choose to see the world as a positive place, or at least work to focus on what is positive and to mitigate the negative, then the clouds begin to part and the sun can shine through more clearly. Through a more skillful use of our minds and our psychology we can begin to debug any negativity that is hardwired in us. We can begin to overturn this negativity bias in favor of a positivity bias. This is not one in which we are naive and don’t see the negative. We need to see it clearly in order to be creative and effective in how we encounter and approach reality in a way that has a greater likelihood for positive outcomes. If we approach our world with a positivity bias and one that looks at the world as friendly, then it is as if we were panning for gold.
So ask yourself this question today, “Is the universe friendly?” See if you can look for the signs or proof that it is friendly and notice any time you observe and engage with things that are counter to this working hypothesis. As I’m writing this I’m in my post-workout, pre-work mode where I’m watching Good morning America and re-ordering my to do list for the day for the week. In reality the show should be called Bad Morning America. The news is clearly caught and mostly negativity bias at least an 80/20 level. I don’t advocate not being informed and sticking your head in the sand hoping to find something good down there. But it does make sense to limit the amount the amount of negative news, relationships and experiences in our lives so that the negative is not reinforced and does not become the reality that we then notice and unconsciously project out into the world. Thus acting on it and making that our reality.