My Third Favorite Pants: Gratitude and the Negativity Bias

In my Peace of Mind classes we often break the ice and start things off with a game I call “tell me something good”. I ask my students to think of something good. We try to focus on the little good things in life, like a clean, fresh-smelling towel, or your favorite food in your lunchbox, or a friend who helped you up when you fell down. We sing the first line from the classic Chaka Khan song “Tell Me Something Good” each time someone shares. It’s a lot of fun, gets all of the kids participating – even the quiet ones – and lets me learn a little more about their home lives and interests.

The kids always have interesting things to say, but one comment sticks out in my memory. There was a boy I’ll call Leo in one of my classes. Leo was a smart, serious, 4th grader who didn’t seem to be particularly interested in a class that is mostly about feelings, kindness, peace. He hadn’t been participating in the game up until now, but this one day he raised his hand. So we sang, “Leo, Tell Me Something Good” and he said, “I’m wearing my third favorite pants.” This led us to a wonderful discussion about being grateful for what we have, for not always needing to have “the best” of everything, but how we can be perfectly happy and grateful for what we have today. The idea of gratitude for the third favorite pants really stuck with me.

The inspiration for this game was a lesson I was teaching on the brain’s Negativity Bias. Our brains are hardwired to look for and notice negative things – dangers, threats, differences that could be problematic. Our brains are known to be “teflon for good things and velcro for bad.” Meaning that we hold on to the memories of negative experiences more than good experiences because our brains think that we might need to learn from those negative experiences. I’m sure we all have a memory of a humiliating experience that we definitely can’t learn from but stays with us nevertheless. That’s why when we sing a song or write a poem or perform a dance, the laudatory comments seem to flow over us and away while one criticism even if it is small will stay for us for life. Left unchecked, this Negativity Bias can leave us with a very skewed and unrealistic view of our life and our world.

Neuroscientists believe that gratitude practice can help to override or at least compensate for the Negativity Bias. Making a practice of noticing and really focusing on the little good things that happen in your daily life can give you a more balanced, real picture of what is happening to you. Sure, your boss snapped at you today. That may be true. But it is also true that you have a trusted colleague to confide in who makes you feel better with sympathy and laughter. When we report on our day’s activities to a partner, we probably focus on the negative experience, whereas the positive experience is every bit as true and in the long run much more important and meaningful.

So we sing “tell me something good” and we look for the little good things. We aren’t trying to pretend that bad things aren’t happening, but rather trying to experience what is really happening in our life in all of its diversity and richness. – in peace, Linda

One thought on “My Third Favorite Pants: Gratitude and the Negativity Bias

  1. Karen Gray says:

    Thank you so much, Linda. As I’m sure you know, Dorothy loves the peace and mindfulness activities you bring into her world. And I’m truly grateful!


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