The power of positive thinking

Many people claim to me that journalists are only interested in bad news. Why can’t we write something happy for a change? Who wouldn’t want to read a story like “weather tolerable, light breeze”, or “mild work problem solved”?

I may mock, but those who want more happiness in their news might be getting your wish. the graph below is an index of how often the words “positives” and “negatives” show up in Factiva’s global major news stories database. I’ve taken 2002 as the base because, in 2002, there were about the same number of positives and negatives in the press.

As you can see, the graph doesn’t change much until the end of 2008. Then it whizzes up. The number of stories mentioning negatives hasn’t changed very much, but there are hundreds more stories mentioning positivity. We’re obviously learning to look on the bright side.

I excluded sports stories from this on purpose, because I had chosen the jargon noun “positives” (the thing that footballers “take”) rather than the more common adjective “positive”. There are few setbacks so appalling, no disappointments too depressing that a news story can’t quote someone taking positives from them.

The news business is changing: it is less about what’s happening, and more about how people feel about what just happened. These reactions may not be informed or relevant, but they’re certainly easier to report quickly. It is news for the Facebook generation, because we can all get involved. Not only have we taken the positives, we’re evidently not ready to give them back.

1 Response to “The power of positive thinking”

  1. 1 Brett Hetherington January 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I like how you have picked up this trend about simplfying complicated things into either negative or positive. There is widespread idea that anger is a ‘negative’ emotion. But after all, anger is just an energy. Its power can be turned into destructive violence or on the other hand, into actions that can actually benefit people.

    Without anger inside him – an anger of injustice – Mahatma Gandhi could not have struggled against English domination of India, and he did this by using peaceful methods of resistance. Without a fierce resentment towards racism, Martin Luther King Junior could not have espoused equality with quite the same passion that moved so many who heard him, and without anger at the class system in Britain, George Orwell could not have written so persuasively against it. It is ridiculous to deny our own anger or that of others. We should therefore not teach our kids that anger is bad, but rather that there are ways of expressing it that are harmful.

    In other words, there is no such thing as a negative emotion.

    So, is happiness always a so-called “positive” thing?

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