The positive power of negative visualizations

The positive power of negative visualizations

It is time to add a new tool to your toolkit: negative visualizations. It may sound counterintuitive, but this practice likely increases your happiness.

Many of us are trapped in the hedonic treadmill. We earn money to fulfill our desires, but the joy wears of quickly and we return to the same level of happiness as before.

This is why we always want more. We want a better paying job, a new car and a new television. We even want those things after we just got them.

The Stoics use negative visualization to break this cycle.

When you practice negative visualizations you spend some time thinking that the things you value are lost. Imagine, vividly, that you lost your car, your television or your job. You do not worry about losing them, you imagine, without affecting your emotions, that you lost your possession.

This technique can feel counterintuitive. After all, the self-development industry is crowded with people advocating positive thinking. For example, Hal Elrod discusses the power of daily ‘positive’ visualizations in his book The Miracle Morning. Negative visualizations do not replace or devalue those practices. But, they can increase your happiness.

The easiest way to gain happiness is to want the things you already have.
William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life

Maybe you feel bored with your possessions, but did you once dream of having them? The most used ‘cure’ for the boredom is buying a new gadget to have a brief experience of joy. Wouldn’t it be much better if you could enjoy the things you once dreamed of having, again? Negative visualizations help you to appreciate what you have by visualizing what life would be like if it been lost.

People who experience a catastrophe often change their perspective on life. Using negative visualizations can give you that same change: finding new happiness in the possessions and people that are already in your life.

If, like many people, you tend to be vaguely unhappy much of the time, it can be very helpful to manufacture a feeling of gratitude by simply contemplating all the terrible things that have not happened to you, or to think of how many people would consider their prayers answered if they could only live as you are now.
Sam Harris, Waking Up