How to Skip the Slant

The world has become a noisy place. Between overflowing inboxes, a constant stream of notifications, and 24/7 cable news, finding quiet can be a challenge.

While we can stem a great deal of information flow to our brains by customizing our smartphone settings, peace is not necessarily synonymous with total disconnection. Information allows us to make good decisions in life. So how do we stay informed without getting overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed?

As a national CBS News anchor turned happiness researcher, I research the influence of news on the brain. In a study I conducted with researcher Shawn Achor and Arianna Huffington, we found that just three minutes of negative news in the morning can increase your chances of having a bad day by 27%. And that was as reported 6-8 hours later. This means that the negative mood you might experience while catching up on the news first thing in the morning can stick with you throughout your day.

But there is a way to stay in the know without getting stuck at negative. First, it is important to think about your options. Too often people I talk to think there are only two types of news stories: negative, sensational ones or drippy sweet, saccharine tidbits like the one with the waterskiing squirrel (no judgement, I love these!). These don’t work in promoting positive change. A barrage of negative news convinces our brains our behavior doesn’t matter. If all we talk about is problems without a focus on solutions, our brain starts to believe that we cannot create positive change in the world. While cute positive stories are a nice break from the negative, they are often also not compelling. But there is an often overlooked third, stronger path. I call it transformative journalism.

Transformative journalism is an engaging, solution-focused way of covering the news. It activates the belief that your behavior matters, engages readers to get involved through calls to action, and presents solutions to problems as opposed to merely showcasing the problem alone. It can take the form of a story about an individual or organization that overcame a challenge with specific, detailed information about how that was done. Stories might also highlight an as-yet unsolved problem in our world and go on to discuss potential or actual solutions people can take right now to help solve it. These stories have remarkable and lasting effects on our brains.

In a follow-up study with Achor and Huffington, we found that when people read articles about problems in the community that also discuss possible solutions, creative problem solving abilities increased by an average of 20% on subsequent unrelated tasks. If we see a path forward and feel a sense of empowerment in one domain, we carry that mindset with us to other things we’re doing during the day. If you fill your brain with even just a few minutes of inspiring, empowering, solution-focused news early in the day, that can make you better at your job or at parenting your children.

If you’re looking for quiet, I definitely advocate cutting down on news consumption. But since we don’t want to live in a bubble, here are some strategies to staying informed in a way that promotes greater well-being:

Skip the angry: If the news broadcaster has an angry tone, know you are being influenced by it. We can be influenced by other people’s nonverbals like tone and facial expression in minutes. A study at the University of California, Riverside, found that when three strangers were asked to sit in a room together in silence for just two minutes, the most nonverbally expressive person influenced the other two. If that person was negative, frowning, with arms crossed, they spread that negativity to the others. Meanwhile, a positive disposition was also contagious. Angry tone, word choice, and shocking images can change how your brain processes the information. Look for facts. Skip the slant.

Clean your feed: If your friends on social media are posting negative content, hide them from your feed. In a study of more than 689,000 Facebook users, researchers found that when someone’s feed was more negative, they were more likely to post negative stories themselves. On the flipside, when our feed is more positive, that increases the chances of us posting positive stories. Just like you are what you eat, you are what you’re fed on social media. Hide people who are bad for your brain.

Get inspired: Most news organizations publish occasional inspiring, solution-focused stories. Skip negative headlines, and consciously look for those motivating stories. If you’re going to take 15 minutes to get up to speed, it is better to read a longer format article that really goes in-depth about a topic and looks at solutions than spend that time surfing trending stories. Monitor your mood while experimenting with this new approach, and I think you’ll quickly see that stories that make you feel hopeful and optimistic can transform your day.

If you’re feeling inspired and you’d like more ways to start off your day on a positive note, join Shawn Achor and me in our free research- and idea-packed Wake Up and Inspire Happiness Video Workshop, based upon our new PBS show Inspire Happiness. Go ahead, create more happiness and success in your life!

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  • Petar Gabarov

    Good article, though I’m not that sure about the clean your feed part. Though it sounds nice to unfollow people who share negative stuff I caught myself being drowning in the positive people share of their lives and since at the time (and still) I felt like my life was in ruins it annoyed me even more that I, an introvert, couldn’t find myself to live that way. Also having found a lot of positivity quotes and also people to just be some bloated positivity air bubbles waiting to be burst I went for sarcasm memes. And real stories. Seems happiness is quite annoying if faked. Positivity is good if its real, if it’s like you say, solution oriented, not the “good times are coming type yes if you agree” crap, cos nothing comes if yoy just wait…
    So apart from limting the bad, limiting the “good” is also good.

  • Jeffery Bradley

    I agree with Chris? Don’t under estimate the power of TV’s news and commercial advertisment! They love other and one is nothing without the other. Here’s “How to Skip the Slant?”: Turn off the TV, unplug it, put it in storage or on a corner. Then watch in amazing how your life will improve immediately. Oh yeah, read “The Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” by Jerry Mander. Michelle has a “dare I say it?” – a TV show to push!!! Lol!

  • Lisa

    JUDGMENT. GET IT?

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  • SLR

    I would suggest also limiting how you receive your news. If you are sensitive, video with sound can be too intrusive, particularly if violent subject matter is being screened. Audio only news is less disturbing. I find reading the news best. This limits the emotional splash-over from a news presenter. Making a distinction between actual news (ie this happened) and blah blah over the news (a talking head telling you what they think or predict or read in their tea leaves about what happened) also is very helpful. Most of what fills “news” is not news, it is “blah blah”.

  • chris

    Seriously? Of course, this “happiness-is-a-right” garbage and the accompanying marketing buzzwords is being hawked by someone who is PROFITING from selling it! Gielan’s premise — that you can remove the negative slant from the news, become “empowered” by mulling solutions and still remain informed — is ludicrous. Sure, you can view a soft “news” feel-good article about helping a local charity or participating in local grass-roots efforts. But you can’t remove the negative slant to the news itself when the events aren’t positive for anyone. Consider articles about: millions of people potentially losing health care because of Congress and the Trump administration; the London terror attacks; millions of starving children in South Sudan; intentional murders of innocents by a psychopathic leader in the Philippines… there are NO POSITIVE angles to these types of global news that a reader can invent unless, of course, you are the one trying to make bank by persuading people that there are!

    • Ken

      What kind of news did you watch this morning. Just sayin’

      • a reader

        Ken, I’m not sure I get your point–almost any responsible, NON-biased newspaper or news show (whether TV or radio) would have discussed these developments (or if not all of them, then ones similar to them), because they happened, and they do affect a lot of people, whether one likes it or not… Are you implying that Chris should avoid reputable news sources and go with biased ones? Is the increase in happiness that comes with being misinformed really worth it?

      • chris

        Ken, I consume a very wide variety of LEGITIMATE news sources and even try to periodically visit ones that clearly peddle “fake” and extremely biased news, just to keep the enemy closer…. I don’t think you can call yourself “informed” if you intentionally avoid coverage by the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune & Sun Times, BBC, NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg, the British papers, CNN/NBC/CBS/PBS, Fox News and the Russian Television RT, plus some smarmy websites that I won’t give free publicity… Nor can the “news” be cleansed to make it more palatable to those who find it “negative.” Bad things happen, and it must be covered as such; you can’t whitewash with less negativity so it doesn’t upset your morning. That’s sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening — a disservice to millions of people who ARE truly suffering. We NEED to publicize, acknowledge and try to understand their travails if we are ever to do anything to help resolve them! You are more than welcome to live in your little happy bubble. That’s your prerogative. But many of us prefer to face facts head-on, however negative, disconcerting or distasteful they may be — and try to know what’s truly occurring in the world. You can’t just pretend that we can make a difference by paying attention only to the happy events occurring in our little sunny patch of backyard. Cheers.

        • Ken

          You used the word “enemy”. That is starting from a biased viewpoint, isn’t it?

          • chris

            “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…” No, it isn’t a biased viewpoint. It simply is an acknowledgement that EVERYONE has views. That’s doesn’t make it “wrong” or “biased” to have them; it’s only corrupting when you fail to admit it: lack of self introspection and self responsibility. If you think you do NOT HAVE an original viewpoint from which to start, then you are lost. You must try to become informed about topics from all vantage points, even those that you fundamentally disagree with. You can’t make a cogent argument about anything if you only understand one side of the debate…

    • MARY ANN QUINLAN

      There will always be optimists and pessimists. When a person believes there is no way to make change that results in improvement, that person has lost hope. They are/have become a pessimist. An optimist believes that positive change is possible. So, how to encourage the optimists to persist, persevere? Transformative journalism can provide the success stories and creative ideas that allow an optimist to keep going and find others who can help lead the way. For example, one big journalistic story this weekend is about healthcare access and financing, and how many people who opposed Ryancare/ Trumpcare had their voices heard by their MoC. For some people (not all), this is a transformative moment- not just the demise of a cruel piece of legislation, but the realization that all those phone calls and rallies made some difference. I am not as well informed on the other tragedies you mentioned, Chris, but there are surely positive glimmers in even the darkest tragedies.

      • chris

        I completely understand the optimist/pessimist argument. But I also understand that painting tragedy, especially in it early stages, as anything with a positive glimmer avoids facing reality. Yes, we can celebrate the survivors of an earthquake; that’s the “soft” news that follows processing and absorbing the hard news. And if you are not familiar with the very few, major headlines that I provided from current news, then consider reading more broadly and more often. None of these topics is backpage news….

        • SteStephanie Carleton

          Even among the horrible stories of earthquake, suffering in war-torn nations, and justice etc. there are stories of people out there trying to help whether somebody rescued somebody from the following burning building for rescuing somebody at sea, or a diplomat trying to help people find common ground, that can bring us hope. Very nice article thank you

          • chris

            You’re preaching to the choir… that’s what I mentioned. Cheers.

        • JadePenguin

          I don’t think it means smiling at a funeral Pollyanna kind of journalism. That’s also why it makes the point about cute animal videos – we don’t feel fulfilled by those because it’s just ignoring problems in the world. I think the idea is news that show a way to make things better. If an earthquake happened, it should mention rescue, rebuilding and strengthening efforts. That sorta thing. Mourn and then think how can we make things better in the future

    • Lisa

      Oh yes, of course citing numerous “scientific” studies lends credence to all this belief and numbers are so helpful. This type of article belongs on Yahoo. I listen to the news in the A.M. for the traffic because I have a long commute. Does that give me a 27% chance at a bad day? Whatever. I think this author is young and naive. Bottom line is we all make choices, our attitudes are up to us, as are our filters. Choose your news sources carefully, choose the amount of time you “mull” the negative, be mature and not naive enough to cite a bunch of statistics that are numbers, not people. I’m with you, Chris.

    • reluctant_participant

      I also have problems with the “happiness” concept. But I’m not that concerned about people profiting from promoting this concept. Negative stories outnumber positive stories 17 to 1. Research shows that humans have a bias towards attending the negative as a survival instinct. Haven’t researched this, but this instinct might be prevalent at even cellular level. Negative news creates fear and either flight or paralysis with little resulting problem-solving behaviors. Keep in mind that every news source has an agenda, most often to make money. There are “less-biased sources” of information from each individuals perspective, but even these sources stack facts in a way that promotes fear and little problem-solving. No one is suggesting a complete head in the sand approach to news exposure. I do think we need to be aware of events, even overwhelmingly negative. Research shows that individuals with a more positive outlook are more likely to be open to and promote change. They are aware of the negative, but aren’t overwhelmed and driven to despair and inactivity. So count me among those who avoid, but not ignore, the headlines and talking heads. I want the positive energy that spurs me to believe change is not only possible but likely. Avoiding the negative puts us in place to better grasp an action-oriented approach. That’ a good thing.

      • chris

        Yes, agree about not letting the negative create despair or foster hopelessness or inactivity…And that wasn’t my point at all. It’s that focusing far too.much on the positive without rendering equal consideration to the negative creates a falsely “happy” environment. One certainly can’t adequately gauge the positive without a valid benchmark with which to contrast it — an earned appreciation. Ergo, not acknowledging the gravity of the negatives (simply for the sake of promoting your personal “happiness” quotient) seems disingenuous at best. Cheers.

        • reluctant_participant

          I agree, Chris. Too much ‘happiness’ may promote an unrealistic view that things are ‘ok’. Many, including myself, are less likely to take action if our perspective is delusionally sanguine.

  • Repose comes from the inside-out, not the outside-in. Maximize self-repose in absolute silence and stillness. Pure being exists there, the still form of the body.

  • Yes! There is a new clarity possible from the current chaos. Taking quiet time with this thought in the morning and evening is helping. I don’t have to be frustrated by not seeing the solutions yet.

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  • Mon

    So true and yet so difficult to accomplish. I limit my news intake to the headlines on a government funded site. Less emotive stories and more facts. But when looking for ‘good news’ stories I have misty just found cute stories about someone stopping for a dog crossing the road and not about communities getting together to solve real hard problems. If someone has tips of such sites I would gladly accept them.

    • Kaywess

      You might look for “Yes” Magazine on the net or as a PRI radio show. I haven’t read it in quite awhile, but I believe that individual and community problem solving is their focus.

    • JadePenguin

      Future Crunch newsletter is awesome. Positive News is occasionally good.

  • Bhaarath

    This is an excellent piece. I often feel that news consumption is bad for my brain as I pretty much know from experience as to what to expect from society. And also since the media have nowadays across the globe been failing to avoid even the slightest hint of bias has only discouraged me to completely avoid news consumption. But yet as you say we must not live in a bubble and for that I listen to my friends discuss about the current happenings and I guess that’s much more healthy as discussions often seek solutions and also clearly define the premise of the problem. Once again, thank you for this excellent article. You made my day. Now I can hit the sack with happiness and belief that journalism can perhaps be pushed into the right path my adopting the transformative approach.

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