Why We’re Not Wired to Pay Attention to the Good Things in Life

We're wired to pay attention to what's negative—great for survival, not so great for everyday life. Elisha Goldstein explores how mindfulness undercuts our negativity bias. 

Photo: JD Hancock/Flickr.com

Let’s keep this simple.

You may or may not have heard by now that our brain is wired to pay attention more frequently, and with greater veracity, to what’s negative. This doesn’t mean that the good moments in life aren’t happening. We’re just not wired to pay attention to them.


Because as a human race, we’re wired to survive, not be happy.


I have a theory that in this moment in time we’re going through an evolution as a species. Because of the overabundance of things pulling our attention, we’re forced to expand our awareness—the kind of awareness that breeds balance, well-being, and a greater sense of what matters.

So people are being turned onto mindfulness more. More spaces are offering it, more institutions are studying it, and there’s greater media to get the word out about it.

Mindfulness provides us with awareness and the opportunity to take wise actions to further balance this negativity bias.

This is an evolution of an enduring happiness. Are you on board?

One of the simple things we can do when we become aware of our current conditioning is be on the lookout for the happy moments. By “happy moments,” I don’t mean just the drunken pleasures of life. I mean the whole spectrum—from the small delights of enjoying a hot cup of tea, the sunshine splashing on your face, watching your child do something new for the first time (instead of being on your phone), or even feeling the relief from anxiety or depressive symptoms.

It’s about recognizing on a deep level that like the life of a butterfly or a flower, life is short and precious.

Mindfulness provides the opening, and then we have to intentionally notice these as they arise. From there we can make the choice to savor, appreciate, and be grateful for them.

One thing I talk about in Uncovering Happiness is that there are things we can do to ignite out natural anti-depressants and uncover that enduring sense of well-being. These micro-happy-moments of life can create small shifts in the brain that if practiced, savored and repeated can encourage positive neuroplasticity and an anti-depressant brain.

Take time today—maybe even this moment—to consider: what’s good right now? And if you notice something, let it linger…

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy.