my big creative year : ordinary happiness

Happiness is good for creative work – it’s an open place, a place of ease and flow, curiosity. I think of myself as a happy person and I think of myself as someone who deals well with failure but I, and I think most of us, can relate to the tendency to focus on negative experiences – the way one criticism can outweigh heaps of praise. And I’m pretty sure a big success has never woken me up at four in the morning. It turns out it’s our default setting – it’s called a negativity bias.

moody teacupDr. Rick Hanson:

“Unfortunately, to help our ancestors survive, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it less adept at learning from positive experiences but efficient at learning from negative ones. In effect, it’s like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.”

Accomplishments get blown right past but what’s not working, what isn’t done, failures, fears criticisms and negative consequences are dwelled upon – I’m a champion at this. Stress is a powerful motivator and very effective in the short term but I think for a lot of my life I convinced myself it was a good place to be, a sort of no pain no gain mentality. Chronic stress eventually becomes self perpetuating and the physical and mental consequences are real and painful.

I came across Dr. Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness on this episode of one of my regular listens – The Accidental Creative. I hope you’ll listen, it’s fascinating and his advice for changing your brain, teaching it to learn more efficiently from positive experiences, one thought at a time, is practical and pretty effortless.

“Passing neural states become lasting neural traits”

There are so many little positive moments and accomplishments throughout the day, little successes and moments of gratitude and connection that aren’t acknowledged – ordinary moments, ordinary happiness that we are apparently neurologically designed not to notice. Giving attention to these little positives, spending an extra moment with them can add to our bank of well being, our happiness.


  1. Denise L.

    Aha! I’ve always wondered why we do this! When any of my children went on a visit, trip, excursion or to a party and I’d ask them on their return if they had a good time, they would unload all the “bad” things. Yet they were always ready to turn around and do it again. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on. I intend on depositing positives into my bank of well being from no on. Thanks, Ann!

    • annwood

      Thanks Denise – that makes sense- little kids are such learning machines!

  2. I struggle with this constantly but more so at my job. It is amazing how much better I feel when I receive a positive comment about my work! If boss’ only realized how FAR a positive comment goes! what’s the deal? do they think if they say something good about your work you will get a big head or not work as hard? This week on Tuesday one partner told me the assignment I completed for her was “great”. The very next day, another partner sent me a nasty gram (email) stating the complete opposite about an assignment I did for him. ALL I can focus on is the negative comment! I am now worried I have a “black” mark and soon will be fired. Losing my job=disaster. I guess that is the survival instinct kicking in. But my entire being is consumed with worry and negativity and what good does that do? NONE.
    LOVE LOVE LOVE your work and blog, Cat

    • annwood

      Thanks so much Cat. It is such a special human gift – our ability to worry and obsess! And nope – it never helps but good luck avoiding it. One note on criticism – I think if it’s delivered with a nasty edge it might have more to do with the criticizer – or even where they are in that moment. I hope you have a lovely weekend, don’t worry to much and enjoy the raves from the other partner!

  3. Suzanne

    I learned of the negativity bias in a meditation class I took recently. The instructor said that for every negative comment/criticism we receive (or perceive) it takes something like 70 positive comments to override the negative. That is so crazy! But apparently so true. I think the velcro-teflon analogy is a good one, and I believe it’s possible to train ourselves to apply detachment — turning your Teflon side out — when negative input comes our way, including our own self-judgment. Like everything, it takes practice, but I actually think creatives are better equipped to envision the shift in perception that’s required when changing thought patterns & reactions.

  4. Oh man, this is so familiar. Thanks for your eloquent words on a constant challenge! Your blog always brings me encouragement and inspiration. I’ve been doing the “Five Minute Journal” each morning and night. There are 5 questions to answer in total, but the two that have been helping me the most are “What are three things that I’m grateful for?” in the morning and “What are three wonderful things that happened today? at night. They can be as big or as tiny as you like. But I find doing this regularly for a few weeks has had a huge effect on how I filter the day’s experiences. I like to think of it as rewiring my brain for happiness.

    I’ve found podcasts are incredibly helpful in keeping me positive. I love The Accidental Creative. Do you listed to Unmistakable Creative? That’s my favourite, and there are so many rich veins of wisdom to be mined there.

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