The Power of Positivity in Storytelling
August 31, 2020 § 10 Comments
By Sweta Srivastava Vikram
I have had several folks tell me that they have a persistent sense that the world is coming to an end. Between the pandemic, racism, and world leaders losing their marbles, most of us are feeling traumatized. It doesn’t help that so many are still working remotely with minimal social interactions, cued into the news constantly, and scrolling through social media where we end up watching/listening to a lot of negativity.
Research tells us that people are naturally attracted to negative news, in part because our brains are primed to scan the environment for danger and remember threats later, as a way of promoting survival. Because of their beliefs, they get careless with what they consume (food, media, and thoughts).
I believe that there is still a lot of good in this world. I do believe there are a lot of reliable people who can make positive change. It is unfortunate that our mainstream media often wants us to think the opposite. Because of the content bombarded at us, it’s equally fair to ask how one can be positive in this current climate. Honestly, it takes a shift in the mindset and an effort to see the good in the world. The idea that your mind can change your world almost seems too good to be true. But research tells us that a person with a positive thinking mindset can anticipate happiness, health and success, and believes that they can overcome any obstacle and difficulty.
The constant focus on negativity can affect your health. This article in Forbes delves into the impact negativity has on our stress levels and as a result, our health. “If you experience stress, you release cortisol, the main stress hormone. Cortisol has a variety of effects, including on the immune system. If you consistently experience negative emotions, you will be subjected to stress and more sensitive to stressful situations. Being positive is the best defense against stress, after all.”
Don’t just focus on what’s not working. I am not suggesting that we ignore the status quo. But my suggestion is to try and find that ray of light that urges you to navigate the world through kindness and positivity. For all the negative stories we write and hear, can we make an intentional effort to share positive words as well? As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
It’s important to see and share the truth. But the truth is that every culture has several stories. Don’t adhere to just one about negativity. I hear some of my closest African American friends remind us that they want us to celebrate Black culture with joy. Don’t read and watch material that only focuses on Black victimization; be curious and educate yourself about stories of empowerment as well. There are so many inspiring moments born from BLM protests.
Experiences of positive emotions are central to human nature and contribute richly to the quality of people’s lives. In Bollywood and media in India, we mostly hear/read stories about patriarchy, violence against women, and gender inequality. Yes, these are all truths that must be told. But India has also produced powerful, female role models like Indira Gandhi (Former Prime Minister of India), Shakuntala Devi (Known as the “human calculator,” she is in the Guinness Book of World Records), Indra Nooyi (Former CEO, Pepsico), and Priyank Chopra Jonas (Former Miss World and star of hit show Quantico). Can we talk about them as well to inspire?
A study, Constructive Journalism: The Effects of Positive Emotions and Solution Information in News Stories, by Karen McIntyre tells us that people who read inspiring news stories were more willing afterwards to sign up for generous actions related to the story, such as signing a petition or donating money to support a cause from the story.
Stories are a powerful tool for learning. I believe that positive, empowering stories can have huge educational value. Mr. Anil Bhasin, Managing Director, Empower Activity Camps—a corporate outbound training & adventure resort near Mumbai, India said, “The rural areas of India look up to Bollywood stars and mimic messages and behavior shown in movies. If all the stories are about misogynistic and violent men, the men in small towns and villages believe that’s what an Indian man ‘looks’ like. But if there were stories highlighting men supportive human beings, equal partners, caregivers, feminist allies…it might inspire the moviegoers to emulate positive behavior.”
It takes gumption to make intentional efforts to stay on the side of positivity and tell positive stories. But including daily doses of positivity—a cultivated habit—can change how you see the world. It is actually good for our mental health as well as relationships. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate.”
Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi and certified Ayurveda health coach, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe. She also teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as well incarcerated men and women. Find her on: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
I work as a poetry editor, and what often frustrates me is that most poetry submissions I review are negative — about pain, depression, sorrow, and anger. These poems are certainly valid and important, but I also want to read the poetry of joy, celebration, revelation, and delight. As artists, it’s easy to buy into the idea that if we are dark and ruminative, we are more sophisticated. I think joy in the face of tragedy and chaos is also brave. As you said, it isn’t about papering over unpleasant realities but rather finding the balance.
I LOVE everything you said. Thank YOU so much for reiterating the power of positivity and finding the right balance.
Thank you for reading!!!
While we can’t control the story line in the media, we can control the stories we tell ourselves day in and day out. I am have an autoimmune disease, and I notice my symptoms can be triggered by my inner narration. I first observed this when I was swimming beside someone who had a much faster stroke. I thought I was forgiving myself with I told myself, “of course I’m not as fast, I have MS.” But really, I was conspiring against myself. Suddenly it felt as if the water hardened into magma.
“We can control the stories we tell ourselves day in and day out.” I love this mindset. I feel you on the symptoms getting triggered by own inner narration. As someone who lives with chronic illness, I have to be mindful of not only what I feed my body but also the stories that I feed my mind.
I really like the way you think. Yes, there is a balance to be struck between staying informed while also keeping a hopeful attitude about the future.
Thank you so much!