Your spouse says “You’re gonna wear that?!” Your child, in a fit of frustration, yells out “I hate you!” Your boss says “This’ll never fly. Where’s your creativity?”
Whether important or not, life-altering or just annoying, why is it that a single critical comment from your spouse, child or business partner hurts more than the compliment or appreciative words they offer? Why does that criticism linger while the compliment fades away almost immediately?
It’s not like your spouse or child doesn’t love you. They do! And tell you so in many ways, throughout the days and years. Your boss or business partner values your contribution, and has told you so often. Yet somehow, that one critical comment sticks with you, brings you down, pretty much ruins your day. How can that be?
It’s all about body chemistry. Truly! Negative or critical, rejecting, comments produce higher levels of cortisol in our brains, which shuts down much of the thinking portions of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. Our sensitivity to slights increases, we become reactive, sometimes anxious or depressed. And the more we ruminate about the negative comments, the worse it feels and the longer our unhappiness continues.
On the other hand, appreciative words, compliments and positive conversations increase the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that allows us to better communicate, collaborate and trust others. Seems like one would wash out the other, right? Ah, but here’s the problem. Oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so the feel-goods disappear far more quickly than the not-so-feel-goods.
In the problem, lies the solution. Truly! All you have to do is think more about the positive interactions and appreciative comments you receive - past, present or hoped-for in the future - than you do about any negative ones. Again, from your past, present or feared-about future.
The think-more solution is actually scientifically based. As a result of extensive, in depth live research on couples, Dr. John Gottman came up with a ratio of positive to negative comments/interactions, which allowed him to predict with incredible accuracy those couples who would divorce. That ratio has continued to remain true through study after study not only with couples, but in the workplace as well: 5 positives to 1 negative.
Don’t give a criticism more power than it deserves! Examine it for a possible grain of truth, deal with that in a constructive manner, and then release the criticism to the land of “never will think about that again.”
Soothe yourself by remembering at least 5 positive appreciative good-feel interactions, and you will have put the power of both chemistry and psychology to good use for your happiness.