March Madness: How Bad News Obliterates Good News

The math, it should balance out. Really it should work. Yet, history and experience show it doesn’t. You know this, you can have a day with 3 good things and you are so happy and yet something annoying that happened 2 weeks ago can null and void the euphoria. Why?

Good news, good things trigger the brain to produce dopamine, a chemical released by the brain that gives us a surge of energy and makes us feel good. That jump for joy, do a happy dance feeling. But here is the deal, bad news has more than an equal and opposite effect.  This was dark, a little surprising and yet obvious. Bad news, bad experiences trigger the lateral habenula and directs the midbrain to halt the production of dopamine. Think of dopamine as light and the lateral habenula as an off switch for light. OMG. The lateral hadenula goes around shutting off all of the dopamine light. The joy is gone, the energy is gone. The good thoughts cannot offset the bad.  Trying to cheer someone up when switch is in the off position is a monumental task. It’s why with a bunch of good stuff, something from two weeks ago can still creep in.

Sigh, scream, let that sink in a moment.  The normal functioning body is going to shut down dopamine production, turn off that light, when we perceive bad. We can’t control that, what we can practice is our perception of bad. At the worst, our biological brains are not up to modern technology. Our attention spans have dropped as a result of technology, but there is more. We are addicted to our phones; the average person checks their phone every 12 minutes. Our pings, connections, thumbs up, likes, messages, a virtual smorgasbord of dopamine. There are also instances of bad news, things that makes us sad or agitated. There is a flood of virtual good and bad news at an unprecedented rate that our brain chemistry has not necessarily adapted to from an evolutionary perspective. It’s easy to dive into a bad news spiral; algorithms for social platforms are designed to keep us continuously engaged and to trap you into an echo chamber to confirm your beliefs.

Consider what you perceive as “bad news” upsetting and undesirable. Know that only a portion of what you hear is fact, the rest is a marketing spin, positioning to lead you to think a certain way and the rest is your reaction, your interpretation of what a series of events means. Of course, shutting everything out is not the answer, but somewhere there is a balance. Knowing the power of words to haunt weeks later, don’t be petty; be responsible. Maybe some thoughts should remain just that, thoughts. Be responsible to yourself also. Who and what have you surrounded yourself with?  Are you in an environment that shuts off your light? Know what energizes you. Yes, there will be times when the lateral habenula cast some serious bad mojo on your dopamine switch. For the rest of the time, know what energizes you. Keep balanced. I’m going to go do something happy right now; time to look at the NCAA basketball bracket and adjust my schedule to lighten up.





*Trauma and drug addiction are out of scope for this short piece, but present different modalities for dissertation.


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