We all have our bad days when we wake up in a terrible mood, scowl at strangers, and fume about how bad traffic is. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional off day. But if this sort of crabby behavior repeatedly manifests itself for weeks or months on end, there’s a good chance you’re too negative.
Having a long-term negative outlook on life can creep up on you without your realizing it, and it’s likely an indicator that you may need to make a larger life change—a new job, new relationship, or at least a new hobby. The thing is, people with negative outlooks aren’t exactly the type of people that would recognize such behavior in themselves. To that end, here are 23 signs you might be negative. If you’re guilty of a few, it’s time to lighten up. And for some more amazing mood-boosting advice, learn the 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
You only have one perspective: your own.
A good sign you are too negative is that every comment you hear gets mentally run through a filter in which you ask, “what’s that say about me?”
Erin Wathen, of EW Wellness Solutions, LLC, gives this example: “The summer college intern makes an innocent comment about the morning commute being a nightmare this morning. You snap at them, because in your mind, you have been commuting into the city longer than they have been alive, and they have no idea what it is to truly work, or what it feels like to have to make up for lost time due to traffic.”
She says that this “highlights how your mind is keeping score of past perceived slights, even against the weather or the local transit authority.” And for help with overcoming your instinct to snap at others, bone up on the 20 Best Ways to Calm Your Anger Instantly.
Social media stresses you out.
If hopping on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram and seeing the good times others are having makes your blood temperature—you find yourself wanting to comment, “must be nice” below your friends’ vacation photos—you might be a bit too negative. Wathen emphasizes that social media can stress out a negative person, who views things in extremes, assuming that others are enjoying life more than they are.
“No one has a perfect Instagram Story life, so when we believe the parts that make us view our own lives, friends and family as not cool, fun or posh enough we diminish what is front of us,” she says. “Why can’t others vacation in the South of France? It isn’t a reflection on you unless you let it become one. We have zero idea what happened before or after the picture was taken or what is really going on in other people’s lives, so stop obsessing. It just highlights our own displeasure with our current life.” Speaking of added pressure from social media, don’t miss the 20 Ways Social Media Stresses Us Out.
You don’t follow projects through.
You may have a burst of energy when first starting on a project or hobby, but have a tendency to let it go when the going gets tough—or when it simply requires a more sustained effort than you think you are capable of. Negative thinking can lead you to focus on the unpleasant aspects of a long-term project, rather than how satisfying it will be when you complete it successfully.
“Most people forget that success is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Darlene Corbett, author of Stop Depriving the World of You: A Guide for Getting Unstuck, out at the end of this year. “True success should not be easy. Many people fail because they lack tenacity.” And to conquer that tendency to procrastinate, try these 60 Best 60-Second Productivity Hacks.
You think you’re too old for…everything.
Sure, there are some things we can’t do at 45 that we could do at 25. (Crushing a game of beer pong isn’t a good look for someone at least attempting to be a full-fledged adult.) But if the phrase “I’m too old for that” pops into your conversation frequently, you probably need to check your negativity. “So many people relinquish the possibilities out of fear so they use excuses such as this,” says Corbett. “Most people want to live very long lives, but they must accept the idea that purpose or meaning is tantamount. Otherwise, they will wither.”
The past dictates your future.
More broadly, Corbett points to a tendency of negative people to limit their options to whatever they’ve done in the past, rather than opening their mind to the range of possibilities available to them.
“This idea that behavior and personality are static again is a false narrative,” she says. “It is a cowardly outlook. Some things are easier for others depending on personality type. Thus, it may take more effort. With that said, everyone is capable of change because it is all around us internally and externally. We live in a time where everything seems to have a pathological root to it. There are benefits to this for greater understanding, but it also excuses someone from being the best they can be.”
Victory means little to you.
One of the best indicators that you are too negative is how you deal with something positive—if you get a promotion at work and your mind immediately goes to how the extra work might be overwhelming, or if you find out a friend is visiting and instantly start worrying that you might not be able to entertain them.
“When we experience good things, we can become anxious that we might lose them or that they’re temporary,” says Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, a therapist and founder of Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis, LLC. “As a result, we look for what’s wrong or not all good about those things so we don’t risk being disappointed or let down if/when they go away. This is damaging because we never fully enjoy the good things we have in the moments we have them, which reinforces our negative worldview.”
You pick fights with your partner.
Every couple has their disagreements, over things large and small. But if you find that you and your partner are locking horns on a daily basis, and often you are initiating the disagreements, you might have a negativity problem. A good rule of thumb comes from relationship psychologist John Gottman, who found that marriages last when the positive-to-negative interactions in a relationship are an average of about 5 to 1. When the balance shifts so that you’re saying negative things more often than positive, it’s a recipe for misery and divorce. And if you think it’s time to call it quits, learn the 40 Best Ways to Prepare for Divorce.
“Never” and “Always” are your favorite words.
Negative people have a habit of seeing the world in all-or-none terms. When a friend can’t make it to brunch, you tell yourself they “always flake.” When a job interview doesn’t lead to an offer, you “never do well at interviews.”
“When we see the world or our circumstances in terms of absolutes, that leaves little to no room for any exceptions,” says Williamson. “When exceptions happen, we have to find a way to explain them to fit our absolutist worldview, otherwise we can become confused and anxious.”
You’d rather just not try.
“Refusal to try anything different to bring positive change in our lives is usually rooted in fear,” says Williamson. “However, if we never try anything new, we remain stuck in our same old patterns. Even if we try something new and fail, we can at least applaud ourselves for trying and look for the lessons to be learned from the experiences.”
To you, work is more negative than positive.
No job is perfect, of course; there’s always going to be something about your 9-to-5 that doesn’t exactly thrill you. But if you find that at, the end of the day, more about your job—your boss, your coworkers, your daily responsibilities—irritated you than made you excited about what you were doing, you might have a problem.
“An employee might continuously complain because they were assigned to a shift that they hate,” says Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, about how a negative person behaves. “Another example is continually complaining because you were passed over for a promotion.”
Jealously strikes often.
Mendez also points to a tendency among negative people to “complain because their friends don’t include them often enough.” If you find you are getting controlling about your friends or feel jealous that they do things without you, instead of blaming them, you would be better off asking yourself these two questions: Are you exaggerating things in your own mind? Why do you need others to give you a sense of self-worth, anyway?
You’re caught in a routine.
It’s one thing to have a routine you like, it’s another to be so firmly stuck in it that you are uncomfortable veering from your daily script. Life coach Jacqueline Pirtle gives the example of having to make a detour during your morning commute.
“This detour has amazing new opportunities in store for you—like finding a new coffee shop or book store that you did not know is nearby,” she says. “Getting mad just means you will miss these opportunities. Rather, choose to stay flexible, positive, and open in these unknown situations. That opens up your experience of life.”
The rage of others hits you personally.
We’ve all experienced an angry boss or done something to aggravate another person—whether a spouse or a random stranger on the street. Sometimes the anger of others is justified, sometimes it’s just them looking for someone to blame for a rotten day; whatever the case, someone who is in the habit of thinking negatively will take this anger personally.
“No one’s anger is ever about you—even if it includes you,” says Pirtle. “Their anger is theirs, which they feel while living their journey. So let them be on their journey without judging or taking part in it, and focus on your feelings, because that is where your power lays.”
Mistakes tend to become indictments.
If a small moment of forgetfulness or oversight at work tends to balloon in your mind into a major screw up or just one more example of a pattern of your failures, you might be a bit too negative. April Selfert, who has a Ph.D. in social cognitive psychology and runs a website and podcast designed to help people live their most fulfilled lives, gives the example of forgetting your office keys at home.
“There are likely to be benign explanations for why you were forgetful, but if you veer toward the negative, you might be more likely to think, ‘I’m so stupid! I can’t believe I forgot my keys again! I always do this!’” she says.
Flaky friends create rifts.
A similar dynamic happens in your social group. If you are a negative person, you are likely to view a small social infraction as a major problem. A friend who doesn’t show up to a get-together or who you haven’t heard from in a while suddenly, in your mind’s view of the world, hate you or don’t want to hang out anymore ever.
Selfert points to an example where a friend doesn’t return a call. “You might think, ‘Ugh, she always blows people off!’ or ‘I’m sure she’s just mad because I wasn’t able to meet her for lunch last week,’” Selfert says. “In reality, that friend’s behavior is ambiguous, and you don’t really know what caused it. Our brains naturally move to the negative to keep us safe from future threats, even when there isn’t a real threat present.”
Your phone is conspicuously silent.
That being said, if Memorial Day or the Fourth come and pass without a single barbecue invite, or if Halloween comes and goes without a single costume party invite, you may legitimately have some work to do on your social skills—but it has more to do with turning around your own negative outlook than blaming your friends for losing interest in spending time with you.
“Most people are too polite to confront you about negativity, but people will just stop inviting you to hang out or attend parties,” says David Bennett, relationship expert and co-owner of Double Trust Dating. “If you notice that you seem to always get left out of things, it may be because the last time you went to a party you complained the whole time.”
Small talk isn’t your thing.
Or at least that may be what you tell yourself. In fact, it’s more likely that your negative thinking is creating impediments in your social interactions, making it hard for you to open up and engage with acquaintances you just met at a party or even workmates you’ve known for years out of a lack of confidence or an over-seriousness that makes it hard to enjoy light, substance-free banter. And for help with spicing up your conversational prowess, Dazzle Any Gathering with These 14 Savvy Small-Talk Tips.
You hate dancing.
Speaking of things that are light and substance-free, dancing is a surprisingly good barometer of your mindset. If you’re at a wedding or some other kind of gathering the music turns up and a sense of dread takes over as you look at the dance floor, you might have a negativity problem. It’s not that positive people are good dancers—if anything, they’re likely worse dancers than you—it’s that they don’t care. They know getting out there and dancing is just a fun, frivolous time. A person thinking negatively can think only about how foolish they will look, when, frankly, nobody is paying attention to them anyway.
You frequently feud.
“The most chronically negative people I know are constantly in disputes with people and organizations in their communities, and on social media,” says Bennett. “They have so many feuds they can’t keep them straight. Some of us have nobody we are feuding with, so if you just unfriended half your social media followers and your all your neighbors consider you the “trouble-making” neighbor, you may be at fault.”
You hate negotiating.
Whether it’s making the case for a raise or haggling over a phone bill, a good negotiation requires a balance of good faith, confidence, and a comfort with facing an unpredictable outcome. A negative thinker, who sees most things in black and white, is much more comfortable being told how much something is or how much they are worth and either accepting it or accepting it grudgingly. They are uncomfortable when they have to both strive for a positive outcome while accepting it may not pan out.
This might seem unrelated to how negative or positive you are, but according to executive coach James Pollard, “Procrastination is often rooted in a deep sense of self-doubt, which is super negative.” He elaborates: “Procrastination is not a natural human trait. We were designed for urgency. Many years ago, if we procrastinated we didn’t eat. We missed the hunt. We missed the planting season and missed the harvest if we procrastinated.”
Junk food is your go-to.
Again, something you might not assume is related to your outlook on life, but really does have a connection. This doesn’t mean having dessert after dinner, but rather regularly eating food you know to be terrible for you. According to Pollard, this is a type of “self-harm” and it’s “rooted in a poor sense of self-worth” and is “especially dangerous because people who harm themselves often hang out with others who do the same.” And for help with cutting back on the bad stuff, don’t miss these 40 Science-Backed Ways to Kick Old Habits.
You chalk success up to luck (or connections).
“The positive, healthy individual will view someone’s success as proof that he or she can do it too,” explains Pollard. “The negative person will view the success as good luck or something of the sort.”
If you have a habit of chalking up the success of others to the fact that they went to a good college, have a lot of money, know the right people, or were lucky enough to stumble into the opportunity—anything but that they worked hard and created their own good fortune—then, chances are, you’ve got a negative outlook.
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