“Just think positively”, “keep your head up”, “good vibes only”, “be the energy you want to attract”, “positivity will get you through”, “keep smiling”.
Every day on Instagram posts and Facebook feeds I witness these mantras, phrases, sayings, whatever you want to call them. In fact, they seem to be everywhere – on posters, on clothing, in books. It seems positivity is taking over the world… well, if a metallic gold message on the side of a mug is actual positivity.
But I call BS. I don’t think these ‘positive’ messages are often very genuine, I don’t believe the people posting them are often realistically representing this in their actual life or that they even wholeheartedly believe what they’re posting. And I don’t think having a positive mindset, even if it is 100 per cent real will guarantee you happiness.
This ‘positive mindset’- genuine or not is creating almost a feeling of guilt for those who don’t intrinsically think this way or who don’t adopt this type of thinking, a ‘negative thinking shame’. But I am here to say, it’s OK to not be a positive person, it is completely natural to have negative thoughts and that you don’t need to feel ashamed if you do.
The truth is (if you didn’t get this already) I am not a ‘positive’ person. That doesn’t mean I walk around in a black cloud and never smile. It means that I am pretty hard on myself, I don’t believe the best in everyone, I worry about lots of things, I question things and I do not believe that ‘everything will work out’ with just a positive mindset. If people want to have those beliefs and that ‘positive’ mindset then go for it, if that works for you. But for those who don’t feel that way that is just as OK, it does not mean that you aren’t going to achieve success or that you have a ‘poor attitude’. Because that is not the truth.
Determination, hard work, diligence, perseverance, tenacity, passion, skill and sometimes just dumb luck – these are the attributes that will help you achieve success – in work, in relationships, getting pregnant, raising a family, living the lifestyle you’d like, running a marathon – whatever it is, it will be those elements that get you there, not just thinking it will all work out.
Stuff happens all the time. Things don’t work out because things out of our control come in an invade our lives – disease, death, infertility, redundancy. These things happen not because we have a positive or negative attitude but because they just happen. But if you believed some people or some books, The Secret, for one, you’d believe that it was totally to do with your mindset. That you brought these things on yourself.
I stumbled across a TED Talk last week which summed up my sentiment perfectly. Psychologist, Susan David discusses a recent study she performed with over 70,000 participants, her ultimate conclusion is that “being positive is a new form of moral correctness”. She states that “normal, natural emotions are now seen as good or bad”. We categorise the way we feel, rather than just feel and we judge ourselves and others for feeling the ‘bad’ ones.
These ‘bad’ emotions or thoughts include: sadness, anger and grief. We judge these feelings so much we often actively try to push these thoughts and feelings aside or encourage others to push them aside, including (inadvertently) our own children, David states. We say things like “stop crying”, “it will be OK”, “don’t worry about it”, rather than actually working through the actual problem or having a conversation about how someone is feeling. How is this ‘positive’?
Watch a segment of Susan David's 'The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage' right here:
The thing is when we do these things to be ‘positive’ or at least to be viewed that way, we fail to deal with how we are actually feeling, how others are actually feeling, and we also lose skills and abilities that these feelings teach us to then deal with issues we face.
David says, “when we push aside our normal emotions to embrace false positivity we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be”. These emotions are “inherently valuable… tough emotions are part of our contract with life”.
So, although a pretty photo with a positive quote over the top posted on your Facebook or Instagram might seem like a great thing to do, perhaps we need to be a bit more realistic in our approach and understand that having a bad day, being upset or worried, that this is also OK to say, as equally as something that makes us feel positive or at least look that way.
As David concluded in her TED Talk, “you don’t get to leave the world a better place without stress of discomfort.” It is experiencing these ‘negative’ feelings that equates a meaningful life.
What do you think of this need to be 'positive' all the time? Do you agree that it needs to stop?