So…How do you handle the co-worker who complains constantly, and can’t seem to say anything good about anyone? Or the Aunt who corners you at family gatherings to share her latest illnesses and pains?
First, let’s begin by assuming you are not one of these negative people LOL. If you are, just stop it, and the rest of us won’t have this problem anymore. (Kidding)
Don’t you wish you could just wave a magic wand and make them all disappear? (Not kidding)
What might surprise you, is that negative people can actually be one of your greatest sources for long-term happiness if you know how to handle them.
It’s true—if you use the principles of Appreciative Living, you can transform your experience with negative people to create greater joy for yourself.
And yes, I’ll even show you how to make them disappear.
Here are the 3 steps to make the magic happen.
STEP 1: FIND COMPASSION.
You may want to wring their negative necks, but here’s the bottom line: Overly negative people are unhappy and suffering in ways you can’t see. They may not show it on the outside, but they are not truly happy on the inside.
This kind of negativity is painful to live with, and can cause physical health problems as well. As much as they are making you miserable, they are making themselves even more miserable. You can always leave and get away from them, but they can never get away from themselves.
STEP 2: MAKE AN APPRECIATION LIST
This may sound crazy, but if you’ve been following Appreciative Living for any length of time this shouldn’t surprise you. Positive psychology research shows you cannot think clearly when you are mad, frustrated, or angry, and doing an appreciation list is one of the easiest ways to shift your feelings to the positive side so you can deal more effectively with the situation.
To do an appreciation list, write down everything you can think of that you value or appreciate about the negative person or the situation. What makes this different from a gratitude list, is that you pause for a brief time after writing each item to try and really feel the positive emotion. These good feelings release chemicals in your brain that help to “rewire” your thinking.
It may be hard to start that appreciation list, and even harder to feel the good feelings. The more frustrated you are the more difficult it can be. If you are super mad you may have to get the ball rolling with things like, “She is not a serial killer – at least not yet.” Or, “She took a shower today – I think.” You get the idea.
No matter how cranky people are, they all have strengths, successes, things they do well, and other positive traits. It’s just hard to see these good things when you are overly focused on the bad stuff. But the more you sincerely look for those positive traits the more you find, and the better YOU will feel.
And this is all about YOU feeling better, remember?
Continue with your appreciation list until you feel a little better about the person. Notice I did not say you have to feel great. You just need to feel better from when you started. Of course feeling good would be ideal if you can get there.
STEP 3: PLAY THE POSITIVE DETECTIVE GAME
Who doesn’t love a game? Here’s how to play.
1. Pretend you have a magic wand and you can wave it to transform people. You wave your wand at this negative person and the annoying trait that bothered you most has magically disappeared. It has been replaced by the ideal trait you would most like to see.
Now that you’ve magically transformed this person, notice what new positive trait is there instead. Is this ideal person now being complementary instead of critical? Cooperative instead of combative? Supportive instead of undermining? It is important to figure out what the new positive trait is you would most like to see. While there may be many, pick one for now that is causing you the most grief.
2. Once you know the ideal trait you are looking for, be like a detective and try to find evidence of this positive trait in this person each time you see him or her. Make a game out of it. Look for clues in everything they say or do—no matter how small. We know from The Poetic Principle that the positive trait is in there somewhere no matter how hidden it may be.
You might have to start really small and get a little creative in the beginning. For example, “Looks like Bill is getting a snack at the vending machines. Hmmm… he is being supportive of the vending machine companies. And I see he’s being complementary by saying how good everything looks. Oh – and look how cooperative he is being by waiting his turn and not cutting in-front of Tom!” ☺
While it might seem like you are really stretching in the beginning to see the positive trait in the person, over time you will begin to see it for real. This will also give you something else to think about next time you are with him that will make your interaction more fun.
And don’t be surprised when you finally start seeing the positive trait. And don’t be surprised if the person seems to transform before your very eyes as you continue to play the game.
3. For extra credit, and to turn this into a truly transformational experience, start looking for this same positive trait in yourself. Notice times you are being complementary, supportive, cooperative, or whatever it is you are wanting in this other person. Think of times in the past when you acted in this positive way, and how you can do more of it in your life right now.
A funny thing happens when you start looking for what you want in yourself and others. Your frustration with this negative person begins to melt away, and they don’t bother you so much. And you seem to be happier overall.
And then there comes a day when you realize that you really don’t have that many negative people in your life, which is confusing because you still have many of the same people in your life. It turns out that they don’t need to change; you do.
I told you I’d help you make them disappear ☺
And this is one of the many ways Appreciative Living helps you create true and lasting joy, and why it’s a game-changer for personal growth and happiness.
Tell me – What do you think about this ezine? Was it helpful? Does it sound crazy? What questions do you have? Please try these steps and tell me how it works! What else would you like me to write about? Talk to me so I can keep creating ezines that truly help you live a happier life and answer the burning questions you most want to know!
In-joy! – Jackie Kelm
Interesting, I’ve not seen this approach before. I have a question- I try spend time with people who are upbeat and don’t have so much bad energy. Are you saying I shouldn’t to do this? Thanks.
Hi Rachel – I know this is a lot different from what’s out there, and I’ve seen suggestions that you try to stay away from negative people. But what many don’t realize, is that what we see in others is actually a projection of ourselves. In other words, if I am noticing how negative or critical someone is, it’s because I have a part of me that is negative or critical that I don’t want to acknowledge or accept. By focusing on creating the trait we do want in it’s place, we indirectly begin to acknowledge and accept the negative one in ourselves, and then we don’t get as triggered by it in others. So you can try to stay away from overly negative people who magnify the intensity of your bad feelings, but you will still continue to experience negativity in others (and with yourself) until you do exercises such as the ones above. Hope this helps!
Hi Jackie, Thank you for sharing. I like your point about projection of ourselves. It’s a good practice to enhance our self-awareness. In addition, sometimes we may not choose to simply cut people out of our life, especially for family and loved ones.
Yes Dorothy – I cringe when I see advice to eliminate negative people from our lives, but there are times I feel that way myself. The only difference is I know it’s not the answer, and as you said, it’s just not practical in some cases either. There is a great quote by Rumi related to loving the people who irritate us but I can’t find it now.
Very helpful ezine, Jackie! I like your simple variation of the Serenity Prayer that I read in your book: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one person I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me! If I’m honest, the one in my circle of family and friends who needs to change the most, it is definitely me. There’s a lot hidden behind that big smile of mine. God knows it. Beth (my wife) knows it. And, now, I know it. The good news is that once we become aware of an issue, God gives us the grace and the resources (people like you!) to transform us. I am always amazed how God continues to get our attention. He must care about us!
Yes Paul – I also love that variation of the Serenity Prayer! It’s important to not beat ourselves up for these negative traits because that is what’s causing our pain in the first place. It’s learning to love all of who we are, and in that love of self we are transformed.
That was a marvel. I tried it just in my head with a person that I think is not supportive and immediately saw 2 ways she does support me even though she contradicts me often. It seems like I am/was stuck on the unsupportive things but not conscious of the other stuff.
Thank you so much.
I have 2 Happiness Groups and I quote you a lot. In fact, your book has all kinds of underlinings and sticky notes and sticky arrows pointing to parts that I want to remember forever.
Love and hugs, Bea
PS I get your ezine but I don’t think I have a Getting Started with Appreciative Living mini book and would like one.
What a great example of using this in a simple way Bea! And I really appreciate your support of this work. The Getting Started with AL mini-book comes as a 3-part series when you subscribe to this list, so that was probably a while back for you. I will email you one again.
Hi Jackie, it is lovely to see your ezine back in my inbox.
And thank you for those elaborations, there are some really good suggestions to try out!
I am not sure if this was the Rumi poem you were thinking of? It seems to strike a slightly different but complementary note
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
Thank you Suzanne! This is one of my favorite Rumi poems and it prompted me to look for the one I was thinking of. Turns out is was not Rumi but Kahlil Gibran from “The Prophet!” Here it is: “I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; Yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”
I have gone through similar experiences… thank you very much for sharing.. That on which we focus grows ! Similarly when we play the game, the positive aspects outgrow the negative… however, I one needs to behave with complete understanding that “All is well Always”… as the inside talk and outside appreciation must match.
Yes – truly what we focus on grows. Getting the inside talk and outside appreciation is an interesting notion. Can you say more about that?
Thank you for this. I will try with some friends/issues that arose a while back. I was so upset at one point, that in my attempting to discern my part in it, the thought crossed my mind that I was being projected upon! Then I chastised myself because that seems so egotistical and perhaps arrogant. Have you ever been in a situation where that was the situation?
The amended Serenity Prayer is brilliant, again thank you.
I think we are all “being projected upon” as we interact with others if I’m understanding what you mean by that. We each see the world through our unique lenses formed out of our lived experiences and interactions. So what others say to us and about us is really more about them. I don’t think we can avoid projecting onto others, unless perhaps we were interacting or connecting from some kind of meditative or altered state as a truly “open” channel? Not sure this is even possible. Physicist David Bohm talks about creating a collective consciousness as the ultimate way of interacting and co-creating in his Theory of the Implicate Order, which I describe in my first book on Appreciative Living. You can search on it to learn more. It’s pretty heady stuff but interesting to consider!