Every night in America, millions of families similarly gather around the dinner table to eat their last meal of the day and talk about the day’s events. For the vast majority of families, couples, and friends who share dinner together, the topics of conversation typically are skewed toward the negative. We talk about the problems we have at work, gossip about others, discuss troubling news stories, and continuously reiterate what we believe is wrong with the world. If you would take notice of the dinner conversation questions that are asked around the table for just one week, it would be easy to see how these patterns of dialogue have the potential to limit us from living with more fulfillment and life satisfaction.
The human brain is naturally wired to focus on the problems that we encounter throughout our lives so that we can make corrections to cognitive and behavioral errors, live more effectively, and avoid potentially hazardous situations. Unfortunately, this natural tendency to focus on the negative largely shapes the collective mindset of society, which is based upon the ideas of separation, competition, and fear. If we want to move beyond this way of thinking, towards higher levels of fulfillment, we have to take definitive steps to rewire our brains to think positively. One way that we can initiate this transformation is by consciously asking life-affirming dinner conversation questions when we are eating with our loved ones. Ronald Reagan is famously quoted as saying,
All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
And undoubtedly we can enhance our lives by creating enriching dinner table conversations.
The Human Brain’s Bias Towards the Negative:
The negativity of the nightly news shows precisely why the human brain has a bias toward negative events, situations, and circumstances. Whenever we sit down to watch a local or national news broadcast, we certainly know that we will be bombarded with reports about tragic stories and sad occurrences. In much the same way that the day’s events are portrayed in the news, the human brain has evolved in a way to react stronger to negative stimuli in our environments. Psychologists call this phenomenon the negativity bias.
While it may seem impractical for us to think like this, there is actually evolutionary reasoning that explains why the brain has a tendency to focus on the negative. When cavemen were roaming the earth thousands of years ago, they had to be especially alert of potential predators and weren’t afforded the opportunity to make even the slightest mistake. To keep themselves out of dangerous situations, they were forced to pay particularly close attention to negative stimuli in their environment. From these prehistoric times, the brain evolved with a negatively-favored predisposition in order to keep us safe. Today, the negativity bias of humans can be shown using MRI scans that show how electrical activity in the brain is more prevalent when being presented with negative stimuli.
It certainly isn’t entirely bad to think about our problems in hopes of finding life-affirming solutions, but unless we are consciously aware of the negativity bias that is built into the human brain, we will continue to feel dissatisfaction with life. Fortunately, instead of allowing the brain’s negativity bias to run on autopilot, we can take steps towards positively reconditioning our ways of thinking.
Life-Affirming Dinner Conversation Questions:
There are a variety of ways that we can rewire our brains to experience greater levels of happiness and fulfillment each and every day. One way that we can do this is by purposefully asking life-enriching questions at the dinner table. We have already discussed how the majority of our dinner conversations are naturally skewed to the negative, but by consciously asking a number of life-affirming questions on a nightly basis, we can undoubtedly begin to experience higher levels of life satisfaction.
In the Western world, it is not uncommon for families to talk about what they are grateful for before eating dinner, but to truly move yourself and your loved ones towards higher levels of fulfillment, you should aim to take this idea to the next level. There are countless questions that you may want to ask depending upon your circumstances, and you have the ability to personally tailor dinner conversation questions to help you overcome particular problems and negativity bias.
The key to enhancing personal well-being with positively framed questions is to generate conscious, constructive, and honest dialogue in a peaceful and supportive environment. While each situation may call for different questions, here are 3 questions that will assuredly generate heightened levels of life satisfaction:
- What was the best thing that happened to you today?: By asking ‘What was the best thing that happened to you today?’ on a reoccurring basis, you will naturally begin to shift your daily focus away from negative situations and events. If you and your loved ones know that this question is coming each and every evening, you all will begin to naturally look for positive occurrences throughout your day. Remember that reconditioning your thought processes is something that takes time, but by asking this question each night, you will certainly move in a positive direction.
- What was the most compassionate thing you saw or did today?: It is well-documented that individuals who act compassionately experience higher levels of self-confidence and happiness. By asking this question on a daily basis, you will begin to take notice of the acts of kindness you witness each day and actively seek opportunities to help others and create enhanced feelings of connection to those around you. There is good reason why His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama tells us,
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
- What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?: Instead of going to bed dreading the challenges that you know you will face the following day, you can ask ‘What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?’ which will shift your focus to the positive moments that will inevitably come. There isn’t a single day that goes by that we don’t have pleasurable experiences, so by asking this question each night, you can condition yourself to naturally live with more excitement and enthusiasm. There are also numerous occurrences that we can be grateful for each day, and this question can similarly shift your attention toward them.
It’s important for you to understand that talking about negative events and problems in life isn’t entirely bad, but you need to remain weary of living your life from a purely negative perspective. In anticipation of being asked these dinner conversation questions each night, you will naturally begin to focus on the positive aspects of life. After you have conditioned yourself to focus on the positive aspects of each day, you will undoubtedly move closer to the happiness and fulfillment you crave.