Do you remember the old song written by Johnny Mercer and performed by Bing Crosby?
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
Maybe Mercer had the right idea. Maybe focusing on the positive would help us be more effective parents, better friends, and happier people overall.
There is a parenting method whereby parents praise good behavior (“I love the way you are sharing with your sister”) rather than focusing just on negative behaviors (“Stop being mean to your sister!”). I’m oversimplifying, but the general idea is that kids act badly to get attention. If acting in positive ways gets more attention, they will engage in more positive behaviors and fewer negative behaviors.
How I Apply It
Does it work? In my experience, it does, as much as I am able to apply it. When I remember to focus on my kids’ positive behaviors, they do seem to work harder to get my attention by “showing off” good behavior. The biggest challenge is remembering to make a big deal out of the positive behaviors. It’s so much easier to notice the bad ones, especially when I am tired and overwhelmed (and let’s face it, that is most of the time!). One of my goals this year is to proactively encourage the behaviors I want to see rather than reacting to the behaviors that make me crazy.
As I’ve been thinking about this parenting approach, I’ve started to contemplate how it could work in different areas of life. For instance, what if we applied this philosophy to media coverage? What would happen if we only covered stories in which people engaged in positive, life-affirming behavior?
Immediately, I can think of one drawback. Bad behaviors, like sexual harassment, would continue to occur because no one would alert the public to the problem. Those types of issues would remain secret, and victims would be robbed of their powerful voices.
Knowing that it isn’t feasible to only report the good stuff, let me just indulge in a happy news fantasy. If most of the world’s journalism focused on the great things people around the world do for others, would people be even more likely to do great things? Would world leaders fight harder to achieve world peace and end hunger and violence if those were the only actions journalists covered?
Most importantly, would our children benefit from being presented with positive models of behavior they can emulate rather than adults who indulge in base human instincts? Whenever we read the news, we see hatred, violence, and self-indulgence. As parents, we are presented with a huge opportunity—and mandate, even—to seek out content that uplifts, that affirms life, that provides models of positive ways of interacting.
I encourage all of you to try, for at least a week, to focus on the positive. Talk to your kids about news stories involving people acting in amazing, kind, and life-affirming ways.
And let’s talk about gossip: we all do it, and it has been proven to play an important role in society, reforming bullies and encouraging cooperation. Let’s try something different, though. Instead of talking about people in negative ways, let’s “gossip” about all the good things people do, as in, “Have you seen Aditi’s blog, Raising World Children? Isn’t it amazing how hard she works to help foster tolerance and love?”
Try focusing on the good stuff for a week. Then let me know how it goes. How do you feel when you talk about only life-celebrating news? How do your kids respond to hearing more about positive behaviors?
When talking about positive news, Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar says, “Positive information benefits us emotionally, physically, and mentally. It can contribute in a meaningful way to a happier and healthier life.” We need good news to thrive. Do you feel happier when you take in more positive information?
To help you accentuate the positive, I leave you with some websites that share only the good news.
And here are some lists of children’s books that inspire. They may not all be about good things, but they all celebrate the difference a person can make in the world: