Choosing whether to be positive or negative

A new year beckons and a chance to decide how we will approach life's events

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It was back to the swimming pool for the third 20 minute swim of the week – the minimum needed to remain vaguely fit. You can feel mildly pleased with yourself and so seeing a fellow swimmer make faces at another for not wearing the swimming hat required by the Club, gave cause for reflection. Why would someone choose to be so negative over something so apparently minor? What would this say about the woman behind the stern faces and how would this affect her mood?

We’ve probably all read that people who express anger at others are often giving vent to inner anger and frustrations. So, it is interesting to discover that a study in 2011 found that women, more than men, were likely to remain positive if they cultivated positive emotions by recalling pleasant memories or thinking about the current situation in a more favourable way. The study, the work of Brent Scott of Michigan State University (MSU) and former MSU doctoral student Christopher Barnes, studied a group of city bus drivers during a two-week period. They examined the effects of surface acting, and fake smiling, and deep acting and real smiling on male and female bus drivers.

What they found was surprising. "Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men and they withdrew more from work," Scott said. "But they were helped more by deep acting, meaning their mood improved more and they withdrew less."

So, the scowling woman in the pool was actually putting herself in a bad mood. Not sensible. As for the swimmer without the hat, she gamely ignored the sour face and swam on in an energetic way. Rather clever and reminiscent of the story about Buddha. So known was his ability to respond to evil with good that a man travelled miles to put him to the test. He arrived and verbally abused him, insulted him; challenged him; did everything he could to offend Buddha.

Buddha remained unmoved and turned to the man asking “If someone offers you a gift and you decline to accept it, to whom then does it belong?”

The man said, “Then it belongs to the person who offered it.”

Buddha smiled, “That is correct. So if I decline to accept your abuse, does it not then still belong to you?”

The man was speechless and walked away, just as the woman continued swimming in an energetic way.

As 2015 beckons, we have the choice of whether to allow negativity to rain down upon us. In difficult economic times, managements can be demanding and the workplace can leave people demoralised and negative. It is vital, in order to create a virtuous circle of positivity, that negativity is met with its opposite force. Sometimes, of course, the negativity can be endemic in systems – the case of many traditional schools and workplaces for example – but escaping spiritually through deep acting or by jumping ship becomes essential.

So, as you think about ways of making 2015 a special year, perhaps remembering to choose positivity in the face of negativity is a powerful resolution.

Gloria Moss PhD FCIPD is Professor of Marketing and Management at Buckinghamshire New University and author of book ‘Why men like straight lines and women like polka dots’ can be obtained from here She advises companies on making the most of the new science of perception and more information is available at

Gloria Moss

Professor, Buckinghamshire New University