Net Negativity – And How To Avoid This Trap

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Net negativity is a trap that should be avoided at all costs in our pursuit of living a happy life. Here’s what it is and how I learned to avoid it.


You come home from work. You had a rough day because you think you’re about to get a promotion and work extra hard to make your boss see that you earned it. Finally at home, you sit down on the couch and turn on the TV. While you’re watching Netflix, you scroll through Instagram. Your wardrobe is overflowing but that piece looks nice and hey… it’s 20% off. You had a hard day and now it’s time to treat yourself. So you order it.

It’s a week later and you come home from work. The day was awesome so you open up a bottle with your partner to celebrate the promotion you received today. From now on you’re going to earn a lot more, making your current financial worries a thing of the past. Life’s good.

“Honey, how about we ditch this apartment and move into a bigger one?”, you ask your partner.

And boom. You’re trapped.


That was quick, wasn’t it?

Net negativity is a sneaky little bastard that lurks behind many of our life’s decisions like a mean little dog behind a corner, ready to bite.

We must anticipate it, so we avoid these corners at all costs.

So what is net negativity?

Net negativity is the concept that even though a decision might seem like a good idea at first, when you factor in all variables, the end result comes out negative.

What do I mean by that?

Just like your gross salary isn’t your actual received (= net) salary, a seemingly good decision can turn out bad for you.

A classic example would be eating junk food. Yes, junk food can taste awesome and gives us pleasure the moment we eat it but when we factor in that we become fat and unhealthy if we constantly eat it, it’s a net negative decision.

And no. I’m not telling you to ditch your burgers. A little hedonism can bring joy into our lives. Just make sure… you know… that it’s not pizzas, burgers, and sweets every single day.


It’s half a year later and you have moved to your bigger flat. It’s great to have space again and you can finally buy some new clothes. You just don’t like the fact that your commute to work now takes half an hour longer each way.
The raise you got pays well for the flat. Unfortunately, your new home is a little more expensive than you had planned but you just have so much more space so you agreed to move here. Money is still a little tight because you also have to pay more for your commute.

Two more years have passed and you come home from work. The day was exhausting and the commute sucked today. So you sit down on the couch in front of your TV while reading your mails. “Oh, that’s a nice lamp… And it’s also 25% off.”


What happened in this example?

Moving to a new apartment was seemingly a good idea. You had a hard time fitting that newly bought piece of clothing into the wardrobe, so you were focused on the thought that you needed more space.

What actually happened was, that your life has changed for the worse.

Yes, you have more space to put your stuff now but you still buy all that to treat yourself after a hard day at work in hopes for a quick Dopamine rush to make you feel better.

Factoring in your commute of an hour a day, your time effort for your work is 5–6 hours more a week.

If we’re assuming you have a 9–5 job and go to bed at 11 p.m., then that’s the equivalent of a week’s day worth of leisure. Sounds bad?

You also don’t save more money because your expenses stayed the same. So instead of saving it for your next holiday, you spend it commuting.

If I was your boss and asked you from now on to get into your car every Friday after work and drive around for 5 hours, you wouldn’t do it either, would you? Especially not if I told you you’re not getting paid more to do it.

When I used to work at a hospital back home in Austria my ride was usually about 40 to 45 minutes one way. Only when I moved to Zurich and started to bike to work 10 minutes I realized how much of a difference it makes.

Leisure is incredibly important for a happy life, especially if you’re someone who works a lot. If there is one thing I learned in recent years, it’s that:

A happy life can’t be bought. A happy life needs to be lived.

I never really was a person who was careless with his money but I started to question where my money flowed more and more.

“Does this add value to my life?”

Often we think something does, when in fact it’s the opposite.

Whenever we make a choice in life we need to think it through in its wholeness and stop focusing on the good things. The bigger the life decision, the better you need to think it through.

When we decided to move to Switzerland it probably was one of the hardest decisions of my life. So we made a list of pros and cons for each choice, including everything we could think of. Where/how we live, how much we pay for that, friends, family, income, tax, leisure, everything… and then compared the two.
We moved and never regretted it for a second.

Try to include as many variables into your list as possible. All of them are corners with a possible lurking dog.

(Oh, let’s get one thing straight by the way: I love dogs so much it actually scares me. This is just a metaphor.)

Unsubscribe from advertising newsletters of companies that you get in your mailbox (that is virtual as well as physical!).

No, you don’t need someone to tell you “What to wear this spring”. You can decide for yourself.

The less we are being exposed to advertising, the smaller the chance that we make stupid decisions based on temptation.

Let’s admit it. We’ve all bought stupid stuff we didn’t need in the past, just because something was 25% off, didn’t we?

On the other hand, you can subscribe to my newsletter, sending you your weekly dose of “How to live a happy life” fresh every Sunday without the incentive to sell you something.
*cough* 
shameless advertising for myself *cough*.

Wait, what?

Yup. We stopped watching/reading/listening to the news. I plan to dive deeper on this topic another day but for now, let me sum it up like that:

The news influences your decision making as does advertising and everything else from TV to the books you read to social media. If we ditch the negativity out of our lives and concentrate on what makes us happy, we strive towards a happier life in general. That’s the law of attraction.

Whether I finish writing an article, read a good book I enjoy or go for a run on a beautiful day… I just get a lot more happiness out of those things than sitting in front of the TV watching Trump shake Kim Jong-un’s hand.

Remember how much of a big deal that was back then? How much influence on your life did that day have in retrospect? How has your life changed since then? If you’re not a correspondent or someone doing business with someone from North Korea… probably not at all, right?

The thing about the news is that 99% of it has absolutely nothing to do with our own lives. And the other 1% is important enough that you hear about it anyways.

What it does though is influencing our thinking with things that actually don’t affect our lives at all. This makes it more likely for us to take things into consideration (consciously or more important sub-consciously) that have nothing to do with our own lives. Therefore making it more likely to make the wrong choices.

The news also bombards you with negative information constantly. As it’s said: “Bad news is good news”.

Therefore you’re watching TV only to be informed about all the bad things going on. Your bias shifts towards a negative view of the world. More negative even, than it actually is.

Does it add to our happiness to perceive the world as worse than it actually is?

No, money can’t buy you happiness.

But money can do three things:

  1. Buy you negativity, as seen in our example.
    Buying stuff that has no inherent value in improving your life is money that has been wasted. Wasted money means you went to work and worked for free.
  2. Buy you an opportunity that you can turn into happiness.
    Think of the opportunity to travel and experience new things.
  3. Buy you safety and ease of mind.
    Even if you’re not investing your money, just having it in your bank account gives you comfort and ease of mind that if you needed money for an emergency, it was there. That alone is worth so much more and has an impact so much higher on the happiness of your life than that 79th T-shirt you thought about ordering because it’s off 25% right now.

“Working with people who cause your stomach to churn seems much like marrying for money — probably a bad idea under any circumstances, but absolute madness if you are already rich.”- Warren Buffett

Working life is the biggest net negativity trap of all.

If we go to work every day, doing something we hate, just to get the money in to do something we like with it, then that is the prime example of net negativity.

Your time is your most valuable asset in the pursuit of a happy life.

“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.” — Alan Watts

So if you don’t enjoy your work at all and you just spend time there to get some money in, let me tell you from my own experience:

I Used To Be An Anesthetist. Now I’m Happy Instead.
About quitting a job, life decisions and what matters most.
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