Happiness and Expecting the Worst

Do you ever find yourself intentionally expecting the worst? It’s something I discuss in session regularly because it’s a pretty popular form of protection against difficult feelings: expect the worst so if it happens you’re prepared for it, and if it doesn’t happen you’re pleasantly surprised. That makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, the reason this comes up in therapy so often is because it doesn’t work – in the long run, anyway. It might minimize your feelings of disappointment or devastation for that event, but it also makes you overall more anxious and depressed. Here’s why: if you practice negative anticipation it becomes a habit, and then it’s really easy to notice “bad” things and much harder to notice “good” things. On top of that, instead of interpreting something as neutral or good you’re more likely to interpret it as bad because you’ve trained your brain to go in that direction. Then fear or depression sets in because you’ve learned the world delivers a lot of bad stuff. Then you start to act in ways that actually cause more bad things to happen which reinforces your tendency to negatively anticipate. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and downward spiral. So stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and start looking for more reasons to be happy!