One can escape the bad weather, a bad menu, a bad styling, but certainly not bad news. They’re everywhere, peering through the unexpected folds of a Facebook timeline, a Twitter trend list, a sentimental Instagram post, or a column in a newspaper picked up for a play at the crossword. They’re carried through word of mouth, through every gossip, and even late-night shows aren’t immune to throwing sarcasm at the political and environmental wounds that haven’t healed yet. Riots are captured on YouTube, mishaps immortalized on news sites. All these are constantly accessed by millions of worldwide internet users who are only seeking the freshest reports of the day.
Content is king, yells the modern-day internet, bombarding users with raising news that spike intrigue and sometimes, blood pressure. Headlines are cleverly crafted to lure clicks. Stories are created to trend. Everything has to have a shock value—one that incites strong feelings of fear and anger. But the other side of bad news is a grim, dark tunnel of despair, a heavy feeling of hopelessness that makes day to day living harder than it already is. There is no peace for the common man.
Bad news break the day
It’s not just the trend. The human brain is wired to pick up bad news and consumes it with a relish. Psychologists call it Negativity Bias: a natural inclination that skips over the good stuff to peer into the bad ones. There’s a reason behind it; humans are critical creatures. They are fond of weighing circumstances that require better judgment or give them better chances of survival. One cannot simply ignore news about a coming storm, or a spreading epidemic. However, while it serves adaptive functions, a negative bias isn’t exactly helpful, or healthy at most times.
Harvard Business Review has made the pronouncement: reading negative news bogs one’s productivity notches down. An early morning glance at unhealthy documentaries backpedals one’s physical and emotional productivity. It could be as simple as skimming through hate content or unfolding the newspaper to the latest, heart-breaking news. The impact is lasting—a good 6 to 8 hours—a good workday.
Employees’ productivity suffers from consuming bad news. This was the result of a study initiated by Thrive founder Arianna Huffington and specialists from Harvard. In an experiment, 110 participants were grouped into two. The first group watched negative stories before 10 in the morning. The second, with the same schedule, watched uplifting news. A staggering 27% responded that they are likely to remain unhappy for the rest of the day, thanks to the bad news they’ve seen. Imagine constantly reading negative reports at many times in a day!
Negative news has an impact on one’s stress levels. It kicks one out of focus, makes one irritable, and slows down one’s productivity by worrying. While it is important to be in-the-know of what’s happening, too much exposure to negative news can break one’s day.
This is what David Byrne, founder of Reasons to Be Cheerful, aims to solve.
That David Byrne?
A musical legend, an Academy Award winner, a theatre enthusiast, and a creative collaborator. The Scottish-born frontman of the Talking Heads started a musical revolution by lisping the offbeat, quirky lyrics of Psycho Killer in a snappy cadence, a visual that made a mark in the mainstream music scene. His four-piece band has entertained crowds for at least a decade—and him as a solo act for many more, where he infused various musical philosophies genres, such as Afro-Cuban and orchestra, to the art-rock expression his voice was known for. His fame, however, did not stop in musical parallels.
Byrne, regularly cycling around the suburbs of New York, is off to a new adventure—one that allows his multi-disciplinary creativity to take various forms. One of them is writing for his newest passion project: Reasons to Be Cheerful.
“I imagine, like a lot of you who look back over the past year, it seems like the world is going to Hell,” he wrote on his blog. “I wake up in the morning, look at the paper, and go, ‘Oh no!’ Often, I’m depressed for half the day.”
As a therapeutic counterattack to the unwanted effects of bad news, Byrne curates good innovations from communities around the world, as a means to uplift, and as a means to inform. These newfound discoveries are locally helmed and produced remarkable results. In return, Byrne wishes that readers can take similar actions, to gain from another’s experiences, and to discover the possibilities rather than staying stuck in the impossible now.
The Cheerful community
Byrne isn’t alone in this cause. This non-profit editorial project runs under Arbutus Foundation and is joined by many abled hands and heads. This includes Discourse Media co-founder Christine McLaren, who works at RTBC as editor, along with NPR writer Will Doig. A league of remarkable writers, all with their personal stories to tell, engage readers not just to read, but also to inspire them to take action in doing good.
Reasons to Be Cheerful, since its inception in 2018, has grown into a solid, good-vibe-giving platform that showcases transformations from unnoticed communities. It covers topics significant to the fast-changing world: Health, Education, Civic Engagement, Science, Energy, and Transportation. With specific categories and relevant collections, readers can switch their morning reads into ones that provide solutions instead of problems, answers instead of more questions.
Among the notable stories are “I’m Not That Guy Anymore,” by Alex Hall, a peek into public schools and equal chances, of unexpected passions and opportunities to learn. The story is part of the column Education Against the Odds, connecting passion, diligence and learning in spite of adversity. Musician and producer Bryan Eno, who worked with Talking Heads’ early works, wrote “The Necessity of Nuclear,” tapping into the ideas of environmentalist George Monbiot and how nuclear might help elude the earth’s climate problems. David Byrne himself puts the spotlight on “India’s Amazing Art Hub” as he retells his short jaunt at a biennial in the creative Kochi.
Reasons to Be Cheerful is proof that the world overflows with remarkably beautiful discoveries and endearing experiences. There is no shortness of good things. As social media continues to influence users with breaking news and disheartening trends, in the quiet communities gurgle a new sense of hope, creativity, and joy. Instead of skimming through a daily dose of regular updates from the usual platform, perhaps it’s healthier to peer the ears toward the things that truly matter. There are many reasons to be cheerful. Discover it here.
Caris is a feature writer for print and online magazines, constantly charmed by quiet aesthetics and the human brilliance of purposeful making-do.