Instead of moaning about how cold, or hot or humid it is, we could gaze at the clouds floating past and reflect on this beautiful bit of God’s creation.
By Yoginder Sikand
It isn’t that I’ve completely dropped the habit, but I do think things have improved considerably with me on that front. There was a time when I just reveled in negative-talk. In fact, there was almost nothing that I liked doing more. I really enjoyed being critical”of just about anything. If I wasn’t badmouthing a person (behind his or her back, of course!), I was complaining about something or the other. It could be the salt in the daal or the lack of it, the weather or the traffic, the rate of inflation or the garbage in the streets. It could be an ideology or a political party, some community or some country. It could even be the terrible way I thought the way the world in general was heading.
It wasn’t that there was nothing good whatsoever around me or in the world at large. There was, and a great deal of it at that, actually”but I was almost completely blind to it all. And so, I rarely, if ever, talked about it.
Yes, so that was how I was!
Addicted to Negative-Talk
Now, I shouldn’t be too harsh on myself here. I definitely am not the only person in the world who was addicted to negative-talk. If one does a content-analysis of everyday conversations one has with others or the things we read in the newspapers or see on TV, one will probably discover how pervasive negative-talk is. Much of the time when we speak, we are criticising or complaining about something or the other. Sometimes, we engage in negative-talk (it could even be just about the ‘irritating’ mosquitoes hovering around or about ‘it being too hot’ or are ‘miserably cold’) it is only because we are starved of topics of conversation. For many of us, the occasions in our ordinary interactions with others when we say something negative generally far outnumber the occasions when we say something positive. Negative-talk is an addiction, as addictive as being hooked to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. We very easily criticize and condemn, and we very hesitatingly and rarely praise. No wonder, then, that many people look glum much of the time and that there’s so much tension, irritability, suspicion, unrest and hate around us.
Makes Us More Miserable
When we engage in negative-talk, we are only adding to the stock of negativity in the world at large. And even though we may derive some sort of perverse delight from such talk, it actually makes neither us nor those we talk to happy. In fact, it makes all of us even more miserable.
After I became more aware of my addiction to negative-talk and how it was only harming me, I was able to work on addressing it. Now, it isn’t that I’ve dropped negative-talk altogether, but it isn’t a compulsive habit any longer. Sometimes when I yield to the temptation to engage in negative-talk now, my inner voice tells me that what I’ve done is wrong. I feel guilty about it and wish that I had held my tongue. I find that the less negative-talk I engage in, the happier I feel with myself and with the world around me generally.
A Positive Alternative
But merely reducing negative-talk or stopping it altogether isn’t enough to make us a happy person. What is also needed is to consciously replace negative-talk with a positive alternative”which is positive-talk. Now, this may not happen spontaneously or easily, because years of conditioning may have made negativity the default mode for thinking and speaking for many of us. Hence, we have to make a very conscious effort to engage in positive-talk. To begin with, and for a long time, we may have to force ourselves to think of something positive to say in any given situation. Initially, we may find it difficult to find any such positive thing, but this can become easy as we consciously cultivate it as a new habit.
Clouds Floating Past
There’s no dearth of positive things around us to talk about actually if we care to look around. For instance, if we are sitting in a park with a friend, instead of complaining about how dirty the benches are, we could remark on the gracefulness of a tree or a bird that’s hopping about. Instead of moaning about how cold (or hot or humid) it is, we could gaze at the clouds floating past and reflect on this beautiful bit of God’s creation. If we are with our colleagues in our office, instead of gossiping about how inefficient we think our boss is, we could praise him for his sweet smile. If we are talking about that day’s news with someone, instead of engaging in meaningless banter about a scam that a politician has been indicted for, we could talk about a report we’ve read about some good deed that someone has done. There is never any shortage of positive things to talk about, no matter where we find ourselves.
Our Stock of Energy
Now, this does not mean ignoring or being indifferent to the negative things around us. It only means being judicious in the use of our energy and time. It means consciously using them positively. Each time we speak”every time we utter a single word”we use some of our stock of energy and our time, which are limited and valuable. If by critiquing something that we regard as negative we can change it in a positive way, it may be a good thing to do. But if that is not possible, then why waste our energy and time? It makes more sense not to talk about the issue at all and thereby save our precious energy and time, which we could use for a positive purpose instead.
If we consciously resist the temptation to engage in pointless negative-talk, and, in place of it, we cultivate the habit of positive-talk, we can add, in our own small way, to the overall stock of positivity in the world.
Try it out and see for yourself the wonders positive-talk can do in making you, as well those around you, happy!