The Irresistible Pull of Negativity

As someone who spends a lot of time online, one thing I’ve suspected for a long time has become more and more apparent to me: Negativity is so much more interesting, addictive and powerful than positivity. Unfortunately.

You’ve probably noticed this as well: We almost can’t stop ourselves from clicking on that article about a celebrity meltdown or another Hollywood sex scandal – even if we don’t care about those celebrities. I don’t give a f*ck about the UK royal family but I still read articles about Harry and Meghan breaking with the royals, moving to L.A. and now complaining about previous racist remarks.

Sure, there’s probably an evolutionary reason why we prioritize everything that’s negative: focusing on what could go wrong and being extra-scared of snakes or wolves helped us survive. Being in a blissful state or being grateful for existing could make us complacent and careless. Therefore, contentment is not our default state. Also, there are things like jealousy and Schadenfreude that come into play. We love to see famous people fall. We probably also enjoy normal people fall (or seriously hurt themselves, like in a fail video), especially men who are mostly seen as disposable by society, I’d argue.

It’s no secret that most of media is built on negativity. Out of 20 articles on a news site, there might be one or two with positive news. The media loved Trump for that reason and they still try to bring him up as much as they can.

Wars and horrible crimes bring eyeballs, too. If it bleeds, it leads. Covid doesn’t disappoint either: There’s always at least one country that is getting overwhelmed and has new mutations, there are always some vaccination problems, and there’s an endless supply of incompetent politicians who make all the wrong decisions.

Negativity just seems to resonate more with how most people feel inside, and I see people capitalizing on this everywhere I look.

Where there’s negativity, there are eyeballs. Here are some examples that caught my attention recently:

  • There’s a successful German YouTuber called Held der Steine who reviews Lego and other toy sets – sounds wholesome, right? Well, turns out most of his videos are him shitting on Lego and how terrible and overpriced their sets are (and I keep on watching even though I don’t care much for Lego)
  • Another YouTube channel, H3H3, moved from doing comedy sketches to an endless stream of gossip about “internet celebrities” like Jake Paul or James Charles (and they’re successful with it)
  • I used to enjoy reading Medium articles and bought a subscription. Now it seems most of the recommended articles are designed to make you click because the title sounds annoying and confrontational (today’s top 2 articles for me were: “I Don’t Give a Damn if You Don’t Want to Be Called Cisgender” and “I Had Sex With 16 Men In One Year. And Don’t You Dare Judge Me”)

Most YouTubers nowadays seem to be “reaction channels” making fun of “cringy people” (who are often mentally ill) or gossiping about celebrities. Strategically, that’s the easiest way to make money on social: react to other content and gossip, gossip, gossip. Be as toxic as possible, that’s the most reliable way to stay relevant.

Why isn’t positivity more appealing?

There have been attempts to create news sites with wholesome, positive stories, but they typically aren’t of interest to anyone. It seems we can celebrate wholesome stories only if they are coupled with tragedy – like the homeless person who was a drug addict and finally turned his life around, somewhat (we still kind of want him to struggle, else we’d get suspicious if he’s doing too well). We love those turnaround stories. But a person who comes from a good family, goes to college and finds success seemingly easily? Meh, not interesting. We might actually get pissed off a bit (must be nice having it easy like that). The word “privilege” has probably never been used more than this year.

We don’t need to be rocket scientists to know that it’s not healthy to be bombarded with negativity and outrage. It’s like eating candy or binge watching weird porn all day – we instinctively know it’s not good for us, it transforms our brain and saps our joy and optimism.

Ok, we get it – what are we supposed to do now? I think the first step to acknowledge that a) we are naturally drawn to negativity, and b) it has a detrimental effect.

I think there’s some truth to the argument that we consume what resonates with us. A happy person doesn’t start Twitter wars about Prince Harry – it’s not worth it. Like attract like. If you feel terrible, you’ll resonate with conflict and despair, you’ll feel like this is the only truth.

Conversely, if you raise your awareness and if you’re relatively content with your life, you will resonate less with gossip and controversy. The best antidote is probably just to live a real life. Put your smartphone or PC down from time to time and go outside, take a walk, talk to someone instead of refreshing your YouTube or Twitter feed. You probably know where you get your daily fix of negativity, be it toxic online spaces or people – avoid those.

I know it’s easier said than done, but here’s what a mature person would do: Take care of the real imminent problems in your life or your family instead of obsessing over abstract problems that you realistically can’t do much about (I know the latter is more comfy).

It’ll get harder though: I expect traditional media (who’ll do everything to stay relevant) and a lot of online content creators, be it YouTubers, bloggers or political commentators, to double down on their strategy to create outrage and controversy at all cost. Maybe part of it even comes from Russian or Chinese bots and hackers who add fuel to the fire on purpose, who knows. Outrage is like coke to us, we can’t get enough of it.

Don’t let them manipulate your feelings. You’re the product, and you’re the one paying with your attention and your happiness for a small dose of outrage-dopamine. It’s not win-win, it’s win-lose and you lose.

😴 What might help you find calm

Intentional ASMR Picks:

Lot’s of great ASMR videos lthis week. Here are my picks:

  • Gibi’s decision making ASMR was relaxing, and what a cool idea (but a tiny bit stressful due to my latent indecisiveness)
  • ASMR Bakery makes some of the best no talking trigger videos, and her recent one was impressive again
  • But Zeitgeist’s 3 hour no talking masterpiece with various ear cleaning triggers is hard to beat this week – his near-perfect video quality makes me jealous
  • My weekly favorite was something else, however: This fast and chaotic mix of roleplays by Makayla ASMR. I love her energy and mouth sounds, they’re the best

Unintentional ASMR Picks: