When I made feeling good my top priority, I started evaluating every single experience I had in my daily life as either contributing to or taking away from my joy quotient. I quickly realized that the images coming through my various screens (smartphone, computer, TV) were, for the most part, making me feel bad.
I like Facebook, because I have friends all over the world and it’s such an easy way for all of us to keep tabs on each other. However, whenever I looked at Facebook, I regularly saw images, petitions, warnings, and articles about various tragedies. My friends posted these out of love—their love for others, their love for the earth, and their desire to make the world a better place. But it was creating the opposite reaction in me. With every one of these posts I saw (about shootings, kidnappings, war crimes, environmental destruction, animals dying brutally), I felt fear, horror, and hopelessness.
It was also distorting my view of reality. According to Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University, violence of all types has actually been on the decline for thousands of years. Pinker crunched the numbers in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, which shows that in reality, we’re living in the most peaceful era since the existence of our species.
We usually don’t see it this way, though, because of the nature of news. With the rise of social media and the ability to hear about atrocities in real time, we’re often exposed to more bad news than good news. That—coupled with our inborn cognitive bias that predisposes us to remember negative input more readily than positive—creates a formula for hopelessness.
As Pinker says, “News is about things that happen, not about things that don’t happen. If you base your beliefs about the state of the world on what you read in the news, your beliefs will be incorrect.”
This created an existential dilemma for me: How could I stay informed and active in solutions and peace for the planet while also maintaining my own inner peace and joy? I decided I would allow myself to stick my head in the sand for a while, in the name of joy and for the sake of my experiment. Studies that utilize eye tracking have shown that optimists pay less attention to negative visual images and thus actually view the world differently. I needed to do the same—at least for a month.
I took some time to dig deep into the mysterious functions of Facebook and learned how to be selective with what I saw. This simple, albeit laborious, process actually had a huge impact on my daily experience going forward. With that clean sweep, I eliminated a large amount of negativity that I had been willingly engaging in at least once a day for more than seven years. I also stopped looking at most news online.
Did this mean I was less informed about what was happening in the world? Yes. And I decided I was okay with that. I decided I’d be informed about the things I felt inspired to know, and I’d take action from a place of hope rather than guilt, from love rather than fear.
Don’t get me wrong, I do care about what’s happening on the planet—very much. I majored in sustainable living in college; I wrote a thesis on renewable energy. I’m well aware of the challenges facing the earth. But it’s as simple as this: What feels better—focusing on problems or focusing on solutions? It feels much better to me to think about, talk about, and take action for inspiring solutions. And I believe I’m much more effective at creating positive change when I’m feeling hopeful, empowered, and inspired.
Once I had cleared my Facebook account of all less-than-joyful content, I went through the same exercise with my email and other electronic messages, as well as TV, books, movies, and other forms of news and entertainment. Now that I was on the Joy Plan, I constantly screened all input—and if it wasn’t increasing my joy quotient, then it got the boot.
This process of clearing the visual clutter in my life wasn’t just about ignoring what felt bad; it was about creating the space for what feels good. I found that once I cleared that opening, inspiration had a doorway to enter through that had been too crowded before.