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Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

Some of my colleagues advise students to read a college's mission statement before writing essays or visiting campus. It can be helpful, especially if the message is unique. My mission--to make the college process less stressful by managing the work ahead of schedule and focusing on the excellent education students can receive at many institutions--is somewhat unique in the world of "scare tactics and negativity" (words on my homepage). I also realize that it isn’t easy to block out negativity when it’s all around, as well as inside us.

An episode of the Freakonomics podcast entitled “Reasons to be Cheerful” illustrates how "negativity bias" is rooted in our basic human psychology. We are drawn to worst case scenarios. Think about how the earliest humans faced danger before hunting, sleeping, taking any action--you'll agree they needed to worry more than we do. Musician David Byrne, a guest on the podcast, founded a website called “Reasons to be Cheerful” after noticing how one small criticism in an otherwise rave review would cancel out all the positives for him. Perspective, as always, is everything.

Byrne took the website name from perhaps the goofiest song to emerge from the height of the punk era in 1977: "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3.” During a period of austerity-level budget cuts and eventual recession in the UK, punk rock was a logical reaction to privations and anger; but the band Ian Dury and the Blockheads instead released an upbeat tune featuring laundry list lyrics about what people could still feel good about in bad times. In keeping with that ethos, Byrne--ever the optimist who created "American Utopia"--began a website/newsletter that emphasizes positive global events.

I too will always emphasize the positives, the advantages that so many of us have. As I watch my students graduate from college each year, get excellent jobs or attend graduate school, I see my beliefs borne out: college achievements matter much more than which colleges they choose to attend.


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