I read another great article this month, this time about good news. It’s by Matt Ridley, and it’s called “Good News is Gradual, Bad News Sudden.” You have probably already observed that good news tends to happen more gradually and doesn’t get much attention in the press. But bad news sells. Bad news is sudden, dramatic, catastrophic, shocking…and as you may have noticed, it’s getting a lot more focus in the press these days.
It turns out that the bias toward reporting bad news is also getting worse over time. In 2011, Data Scientist Kalev Leetaru used data mining techniques to analyze news stories in the US over a period of 30 years. He found that there was a continual and almost linear trend toward negativity over time.
And it’s not just reporters; humans in general have a Negativity Bias which has been studied enough by Psychologists to be discussed repeatedly in Psychology Today. Maybe this helped our predecessors avoid being eaten by tigers long ago, but it’s not necessarily functional for us today. At a minimum, it doesn’t feel so good to have disaster, tragedy, and corruption shouted at us all day, every day. How many times can I read about Katy Perry’s feud with Taylor Swift before I lose it? Oh, wait, they’re making up! But you get the picture.
So what can we do to address this orientation toward negativity?
- Be aware of our bias toward the negative: Ridley’s article cites a Canadian psychology experiment regarding bad news. Participants told the researchers that they preferred good news, but when they were given the chance to read a news article while they waited for the “experiment” to start they actually chose the negative stories! Just knowing that we are all wired this way could help you catch that tendency and try to avoid it.
- Make it a point to read good news: for example, Good News Network focuses on—you guessed it—good news. If you read a newspaper or news feeds or listen to podcasts, try to focus on just one good story a day. Remind yourself that the media’s job is to sell ads, and bad news sells.
- Invest a little more time and read a book. Here are a few suggestions:
So what does this have to do with finances? I’m sure you see the link: if anything, the financial press is even worse than the press as a whole. The headlines scream daily about the next big crash, skyrocketing interest rates, and of course political instability. Please do your best to ignore this drama, because it will only make you anxious. The financial press is just trying to get your eyeballs on its stories; the sky has not fallen yet, and even when we have drastic downturns we do recover. Don’t let the fear take hold. It can drive you to take actions which are completely contrary to your financial health.
Please note that I’m not asking you to ignore the ugliness and pain in the world, or to be blind to other people’s suffering. Acknowledge the negative and help when you can, but don’t dwell on every little detail. Just fold some positivity in with the “hell-in-a-handbasket” stories to balance things out a bit.