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The Magic of Negative Thinking

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“Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage.” ― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Have your ever bought an I-phone in great exhilaration only to start treating it like your father’s beat up Nokia months later?

Have you ever bought a beautiful house on top of a hill, only to treat it like a hotel room months later?

Have you ever thought that you have finally found the love of your life, only to treat him or her like your personal assistant years later?

Well you are not alone, I and the rest of humankind share the same predisposition towards new things just like you do. We just seem to be never satisfied with what we have.

Psychologists called this phenomenon hedonic adaptation. This according to psychologists, Daniel Gilbert, is our tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable state of happiness despite major positive or negative life changes.

This is why lottery winners end up as happy as they previously were and people take their new I-phone for granted, the same way they took their spouses for granted after they got married.

Human beings seem to be never satisfied with what they have. (And I suppose this same feeling is also responsible for various astounding human achievements). 

Luckily, many ancient philosophers have understood this human homeostasis system and found ways to short-circuit this tendency.

The technique is called negative visualization. As the name suggest, you basically contemplate something bad happening to you or your loved one, so you can appreciate them even more.

The argument is that you will never know how much something or someone is really worth until you lost them.

Negative visualization exercises include asking yourself questions like, ‘How will you live if you are born a pauper?’ Or ‘Imagine in great detail what will you feel if you are born disabled?’ Or the most common one: ‘What if this day is your last day on earth?’

Of course the question varies, but basically the idea is the same: you want to induce your mind into thinking various negative “what if…” scenarios until you feel a little more gratitude towards life.

According to writer William B. Irvine, “Such reflection, rather than converting us into hedonists, will make us appreciate how wonderful it is that we are alive and have the opportunity to fill this day with activity.”

By incorporating negative visualizations into your day to day life, you will feel more happiness, contentment and peace in life.

Not only that, according to writer Ryan Holiday, negative visualization can also help prepare your mind for the worst. By visualizing how you will be rejected, for instance, the sting of that rejection will pain less when it actually happens.

Be careful with these ‘negative visualization’ exercises however, you don’t want to go overboard with it and become a cynic or a party pooper.  Remember that your goal is to add more meaning to your life and appreciate it even more. When you feel that these negative visualizations are affecting you negatively, stop! That’s not what I’m advocating here.

All in all, try these negative visualizations for yourselves and see how it affects your psychology.

For me personally,  it had made my life richer and made me a happier person.  I hope it will do the same for you.

P.s. if you wanted to get my next article earlier, leave your email on the subscribe box below. By subscribing to this blog, you will get my latest Ebook- Threesome (It’s still in Indonesian) and one bonus article every month. Hope you find this article useful and I’ll see you soon!

Magnus lives in Semarang, Indonesia. He is currently managing the family's business together with his dad and his elder brother. Magnus enjoys reading and recently he started writing his personal reflections.

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