The problem with positivity

I have a problem with positivity, or rather, I have a problem with the positivity cult.

You know the one.

The one where a person finds ‘something’ – God, religion, themselves, a guru, the new age, and all of a sudden they’re so fucking happy. Happy is good. Happy is amazing. I love happy. But this kind of happy only looks that way until you get close enough, then you realize it’s all a bit too one dimensional.  It’s forced. A joy Band-Aid if you will.

A Band-Aid covers something that’s wounded and allows it to heal. If one dimensional happy does that then it’s wonderful.

But at some point the Band-Aid has to come off.

Life is constantly in a state of flux. From the tides to our breaths there are highs and lows.

Even a heartbeat has ups and downs.

Sometimes we forget that it’s natural. If your car gets a flat tyre, your child has a tantrum at the shops, you bark your shin on the coffee table or you’ve just had bad news I’m sure you’re not smiling. I hope you’re not. Not then.

I’m not encouraging negativity – far from it. Optimism and positivity are essential parts of a happy life, but sometimes we get so focused on how we should be we lose the integrity of our own feelings. We get into the band-aid state of happiness, or flail to avoid the natural lows and in doing so throw ourselves out of rhythm and wind up feeling worse. We get stuck.

As a mother especially I need to remind myself this. I need to remember that it doesn’t matter how much love I have in my heart, or how insanely grateful I am for my family – some moments just stink. Some days are exhausting, sometimes the kids are just excruciatingly loud, sometimes the mess breeds faster than horny rabbits and it doesn’t take away from all the wonderful in my life to admit that. And BE tired, or BE pissed off, or BE angry or sad.  BE authentic.

Then just let it go.

We get caught up sometimes in the fact that we should know better. We’ve read books that tell us our thoughts create our words, our words create our actions, our actions create our habits and our habits create our destiny. Or something like that. But we are emotional beings. It’s not a design flaw – we’re meant to be.

The more at peace we are with those moments of madness the less intensity we need to give them.  Aristotle said “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” It is the same for emotions. Let them come, play witness to them, own them, then let them go just as freely.

When you swim at the beach you get to know the waves. You know the ones that push you down and the ones that lift you up. You know that, for the most part, if you just relax, if you just go with it, the lows are followed by highs. You don’t need to fight for them, they’re yours.

At some point we have to learn to trust happiness. We need to trust that it’s ours and go with the flux. Laugh when you feel it, smile because you want to, see all the wonder around you and celebrate it but don’t be afraid of those lows. They don’t make you less. They don’t make you flawed.

They just make you honest.

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6 thoughts on “The problem with positivity

  1. Finally! You’ve articulated something that’s been bugging me for ages. Life is cycles, seasons, and poles. There no such thing as a one sided coin, a one-poled magnet. Every upside has a downside and every downside has an up. Addiction to one or the other leads to manic depressive behaviour. Some of the most miserable people I know are the one’s trying to be positive all the time. Success makes us lazy and sloppy, failure makes us wiser and more focussed. Rowing with one oar drives us in circles, we need two oars to progress. Love it. Thank you!!

  2. It’s refreshing to hear this viewpoint for a change. I also am sick of the positive brigade. Like many other people I like to watch sad films occasionally and feel the emotion they generate. It makes me feel more alive rather than a drone with a fixed grin on my face. The argument I often hear from them is that negative people bring everyone down. This may be true of people who are negative all the time and I’ve met a few of these but I find it is often used by managers to reprimand anyone who disagrees with them. i.e. “Why are you so negative?” as if it is a personality flaw rather than an ability to see flaws in over-enthusiastic ideas.

  3. Thank you so much Jackie. I’m not sure if you’ve just read this post, or the others that are up as well, but if you click on the “home” tab it shows all the posts so far, from the most recent back. When I figure out how the site editing works I’ll display that fact better! You can also subscribe to be notified of updates, which will be coming 2-3 times per week :) I really appreciate your feedback xx

  4. What a timely post!
    I’m currently reading ‘The antidote: happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking’, by Oliver Burkeman and it’s fantastic. He mentions Buddhism, stoicism and other philosophical and psychological perspectives and has really changed the way I think about things. (His story about attending a week-long silent retreat as research, to observe his thoughts was also really interesting, as that’s something I’d love to do when the kids are a bit older and I can escape for a week!)

    I also agree with Barbara Ehrenreich’s critique of the positive thinking movement, especially in relation to how we are told to approach things like cancer. As she says, people are told they must think positive, and consider the glass half full…even as it lies shattered on the floor.

    Great post :-)

  5. Thanks Kay :) I’ll have to check out that book, it sounds great. I’m reading two at the moment but will add it to my list! I’d also love to do one of the silent retreats one day, though I imagine it would be very confronting.

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