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ELI5: Why does it feel like it’s easier to have negative thoughts rather than positive? Also, why are we more attracted to negativity – violence, drugs, and vices?(r/explainlikeimfive)
I’m a doctoral candidate in clinical psych and a therapist, so here’s my two cents on this phenomena. Please remember that this information is a generalization based off of existing research and observation of humans–there are always exceptions to any rule.
One thing I often tell my patients is that we notice negative events more often because the positive stuff is happening all the time. Think of it like bad reviews on Yelp. Most of the time, if you had a decent experience somewhere, unless the experience was exceptional you’re probably unlikely to post about said experience. Whereas if something bad happened, you definitely want to tell the world, right?
Secondly, negative emotions are associated with the release of a lot of different neurotransmitters and hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Both of those stimulate our nervous systems to enter fight/flight mode–this is a heightened state of arousal. Generally speaking, positive emotions don’t put us into fight or flight mode unless we perceive something as a threat.
This is the same reason that we are more inclined to remember nightmares rather than dreams. Nightmares release the same chemicals and wake us (very quickly) from sleep.
All of that said, as to why we “seek” risky behaviors, that’s all human nature. If you tell a kid “no” to something, what are they going to try and do? They’ll find a way to do it. It’s quite possible that this is because we like adrenaline rushes (and that’s why adrenaline junkies exist).
Lastly, violence, drugs and vices are not usually seen as negative experiences by the people who partake in them. Mostly because they are getting some positive reinforcement from their brains–usually a flooding of dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter).
TL;DR: Good stuff happens more so we don’t always see it and being bad makes us feel good sometimes (like sneaking cookies from the cookie jar).
Edit: If you are struggling with negative thinking, please consider seeing a therapist! Additionally, here are some resources for changing the way you think!
Cognitive Distortions (Twisted Thinking):