Have you ever noticed that most of the stories on the news aren’t really news, but bad news?

No, it’s not just your imagination. They don’t say “If it bleeds, it leads” for no reason.

After all, if the news program’s primary goal is for us to tune in, it would make sense for them to skew their stories towards the negative. Negative information provokes a stronger psychophysiological response than positive information, so we are probably much more likely to pay attention to a story like “Serial killer on the loose!” than “All’s well in the neighborhood!”

I had a supervisor in grad school, who advised many of her depressed and anxious clients to cut TV news from their daily routine.

As an experiment, I started doing this myself, and did indeed find that it helped me worry less.

Is this just a case of psychologists making a mountain out of a molehill? Or might there actually be something to this?

The effect of TV news

Two psychologists from the UK conducted a study in 1997 where they showed 14-minute news segments to three groups of people. One group watched a set of exclusively negative news stories. Another group watched a set of exclusively positive stories. And a third group watched a set of stories that were emotionally neutral.

Not surprisingly, the folks who watched the negative news stories were more anxious and sadder afterwards, than those who watched the positive or neutral news.

But what is more interesting, is that those who watched the negative news stories spent more time dwelling on and catastrophizing their own personal worries – worries that weren’t even related to the news stories. Like worrying that you’re going to screw up and embarrass yourself at an upcoming audition…never get a job…eventually get evicted from your apartment…and end up living in a box under a tree in the park.

It’s tough enough to stay confident and avoid worrying about your upcoming audition (or performance) under even the best of circumstances. No need to add more fuel to the fire.

What to do?

There is certainly no shortage of discouraging news out there…in the music world and beyond.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some encouraging, intriguing, positive news once in a while to counter or buffer the bad stuff? It’s not like such stories don’t exist. We just don’t have as many folks actively looking for them.

So I’d like to do an experiment.

I’m curious what will happen if instead of consuming mostly bad news every day, we also balance it out with a healthy bit of positive and hopeful happenings around the world that give us glimpses of what the future may hold. Kind of like the Huffington Post’s “Good News” section.

The experiment

In the next week, keep your eyes out for at least one piece of news, a project, or development in the performing arts world (or in any part of the world, if you wish) that makes you feel any of the emotions listed below. It can be a link, a video, or a story you’d like to share that may not have gotten coverage in the press. Not something self-promotional, but something you stumbled across that brightened your day a bit.

Top 10 positive emotions (via Positivity – yes, the math here has been called into question recently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to throw out everything)

  1. Joy
  2. Gratitude
  3. Serenity
  4. Interest (as in, being intrigued, fascinated, curious)
  5. Hope
  6. Pride
  7. Amusement
  8. Inspiration
  9. Awe
  10. Love

Will one story really make a difference? Well, I suspect that if you are tasked with identifying your favorite “positive” story to post, you’re going to read through more than one of them in order to make your choice. Hopefully, this will tip the balance of your reading selections more towards the positive side.

Positive story #1

Ok, here’s mine:

Category: Interest/Hope/Amusement/Inspiration

Story: I was at the University of Wisconsin earlier this month, working with students, learning about their entrepreneurial initiatives, trying America’s No. 1 hamburger, and visiting an innovative pig farm.

I also learned about SoundWaves, a lecture/concert series that is the brainchild of horn professor Daniel Grabois. Daniel loves music, but also loves asking questions about how the world works, and wondered how he might bring together an audience that had similar inclinations.

So he organized a group of faculty to present TED-like talks on a unifying theme, all of which would build up to a thematically relevant musical performance.

A year later, the formula seems to be working. Attendance at the first episode of SoundWaves was ~90. Four episodes later, it had grown to 200+. And this year, they anticipate attendance to grow to 300.

Is this a pre-concert lecture + performance? Or a lecture + post-lecture performance? I don’t know, but it was intriguing nonetheless. It certainly changed how I listened to Parry Karp’s performance of the D minor Bach Cello Suite, and I learned a lot of things I never expected to. Check it out here:

SoundWaves Episode #1: “The Consequences of Sequences”

Your turn!

Now it’s your turn.

What cool things are going on in the world that make you feel optimistic, that intrigue you, that spark your curiosities, that gives you hope and makes you feel one of the emotions listed above? Post in the comments below…

photo credit: Domiriel via photopin cc

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

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