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How to Stay Happy Around Negative People

The critical thing you must do before confronting a negative person.

Source: iStock

“There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. That little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” –Robert Collier

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you how important being upbeat, optimistic and downright happy is to your well-being. For decades, you’ve all heard how being positive improves your relationships, your academic potential, and even how successful you’ll be in your career. And in recent years, research has shown that negative emotions are directly related to a slew of physical conditions, such as hypertension, impaired immune system, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infection.

Bottom line? It’s better to stay happy!

But even on good days, when you’re bopping around like Pharrell Williams singing “Because I’m happy!” at the top of your lungs, you can run into that professional grump who is determined to ruin your mood with his complaining, whining, criticizing, balloon-popping negativity.

Many of us weren’t around when the L’il Abner comic strip was popular. But there was a character named Joe Btfsplk in the comic who walked around with dark rain cloud over his head. Misery and bad luck struck anyone who came within Joe Btfsplk’s vicinity.

Sound like anyone you know?

The fortunate (and unfortunate) thing is that your brain is naturally sensitive to negativity. Fortunate because if the source of that negativity could do actual harm to you (say, a saber tooth tiger ready to pounce), your brain is ready to signal your body to spring into action to defend yourself. But it’s unfortunate because your amygdala doesn’t distinguish between a real threat and your crabby neighbor whose specialty is doom and gloom. Even if the negativity does not threaten your physical survival, your brain will still turn a good amount of your attention to that negative source—and your happy mood is shot.

So how to get the Pharrell Williams track playing again? How to get the happy back—or never lose it in the first place?

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we use the phrase “perception is projection.” In other words, whatever you see out there is in some way a reflection of what is inside of you. That said, the truth is that there are negative people in the world, people who, given the opportunity, will do harm to others. But before dealing with Mr. or Ms. Bad News, you need to check to see how much of your negative reactions to their negativity comes from your own internal issues.

The first step is to track your triggers, those things that instantly make you feel mad, bad, or sad. It can be a particular type of person, like someone who is very successful or someone who is a non-stop talker. It can be a particular topic like your weight or certain political views. A trigger can even be a certain tone of voice such as a patronizing tone or a high-pitched squeal. Pay attention to whatever it is that bumps you out of your feeling of well-being.

Make a list of those things or people, and notice if you can see any similarities or themes. For example, you might notice that you’re bothered by people who constantly gossip about other people—your co-worker, your father-in-law, or your golf buddy. As soon as they start in with the back-stabbing, you feel particularly defensive and uncomfortable. What’s the real issue here? Are you worried that they’re doing the same thing to you when your back is turned? Are you feeling judgmental about others as well but ashamed to admit it?

Just becoming aware of and acknowledging your triggers can go a long way toward helping you maintain your positive mood around negative people. But sometimes a trigger runs deep and needs a more concerted effort to unplug you from your reactions. When that’s the case, you can use what NLP calls a “reframe” by asking yourself: “How can I see this differently?” For example, with the gossiper, you might reframe it and notice that by gossiping and letting off steam, these people are less likely to do actual harm to the people they’re criticizing!

If reframing doesn’t work, your trigger may run deeper. Perhaps you saw an elementary school bully taunt others before pummeling them. You may have some deep-seated fear attached to people speaking ill of someone else that needs releasing. In prior articles, I’ve talked about several techniques like ho’oponopono and the Mental Emotional Release Process® (MER®) that can help with this release.

However you do it, it’s critical to release your own stuff before you confront that negative person. Why? Because by doing so, you’re able to come from a place that is clear, a place that will serve your highest and best intention. Let’s compare how you might respond to the gossiper with and without your own baggage in the mix:

If you haven’t dealt with your own issues, odds are your confrontation will go something like, “I’m sick and tired of hearing you gripe about other people. What’s wrong with you? Can you say anything nice?” Compare that to: “I’m uncomfortable hearing you talk about others that way and I don’t feel good participating in it. Can we talk about something else?”

I’m guessing both approaches would get a reaction from the gossiper. But which feels more centered? Which has the potential for maintaining the relationship, maybe even allowing the gossiper to consider his actions? Which would get you back to happy the soonest?

Bottom line: You’re responsible for and in control of your own happiness. And being happy is important to your overall health and well-being. To paraphrase a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you unhappy without your permission!

Until next time ...

Dr. Matt

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is president of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about Mental Emotional Release® Therapy here.

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