How Many Good Experiences Finally Outweigh a Bad One?


There's a proven ratio.

Palm trees against a cloudy blue sky

Those in customer service have long since been sold the idea that a bad experience is more likely to be relayed to friends than a positive one. Turns out, it’s the same for psychological experiences and your brain.

“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good,” wrote four journal authors – Roy F. Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer and Kathleen D. Vohs – in the article, Bad is Stronger Than Good.

“The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Not only that, but when positive and negative levels are equal, bad is still stronger.

Read More: Why Your Pursuit of Happiness is Fundamentally Flawed

“Many good events can overcome the psychological effects of a single bad one,” the paper reads. “[But] when equal measures of good and bad are present, however, the psychological effects of bad ones outweigh those of the good ones.”

In the scheme of life and the workplace, the effects of a stuff up with a project, or a misunderstanding with a colleague, can leave a lasting effect. But exactly how much time has to pass, or activities need to be undertaken, to emotionally rectify such effects?

According to the work of John Gottman and Robert Levenson, who closely studied the effects of negativity with couples, the suggested ratio is 5:1, meaning that for every negative encounter, there should be a minimum of five positive ones to counterbalance the effects of the first.

Read More: Train Your Brain to Think Positively by ‘Re-Wiring’ it

“In a sense, trauma has no true opposite concept,” the article’s four authors continue. “A single traumatic experience can have long-term effects on the person’s health, wellbeing, attitudes, self-esteem, anxiety, and behaviour; many such effects have been documented.”

Considering that, it’s important that following a negative experience you have at least five positive ones to counterbalance. If you’ve ever considered happiness to be an elusive concept, maybe consider how long ago it was that you had a negative experience – if it’s often and constant, it could be time to put a little more distance between you and your pervasive negativity.

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