Why I Don't Think You Should "Always Be Positive" & What To Do Instead
Every thing I do is based on the power of our brains to change our physical and emotional states with awareness so, I get the idea behind these "always be positive" or "always think positive" messages but I think telling people to "always be positive" is kind of terrible advice. We all know those people who are epic downers -- those people who are literally always complaining about something or looking for the worst in everything. They always seem to find it, don't they? I was at the grocery store recently and making small talk with the cashier. Her: "is it still raining out?" Me: "no, not really, I think it's gonna clear up" Her: "ugh, I hate this weather" Me: "at least it's getting warmer" Her: "I guess, but all those dark clouds... ugh, so gross" Me *pointing outside & smiling: "but look, there's a little patch of blue sky peeking through" Her: "barely, it's still so gloomy and depressing" I gave up at that point and resigned myself to the fact that she wasn't going to be persuaded to see the good in that day. And in that momentary interaction, I couldn't help be notice the polar opposite ways we were choosing to look at the day and I walked away smiling, grateful for my new found ability to find goodness in even the darkest days. It most certainly has not always been that way for me. I very much used to be the "ugh, it's so gross out today" person. But I much prefer this version of me. It's a really wonderful feeling to be able to find something to be grateful about, to be able to see joy in ordinary things that I wouldn't have before, to not always be expecting the worst. And I think that's what's at the heart of the "always be positive" message. It comes from a place of goodness, hope and joy. But the simplicity of it makes it wholly incomplete, naive and not really very helpful. For one thing, you cannot force yourself to stop thinking something. If you're someone who inherently thinks negatively as your "go-to" reaction to everything, that's a habit that's been hard wired into your brain for years -- you can't will negative thoughts to just stop and the harder you try, the louder the thoughts are probably going to get. What you resist, persists. A more effective response to negative thoughts or a destructive mindset is to learn how to mindfully be aware of them. Then, start deciding which thoughts to engage with, which to release and start looking for patterns in how your thoughts are affecting your emotions and behaviors. You have the power to look critically at any given situation, decide what you want to think and feel about it and that you can change those things in a way that promotes more joy and fuels more goodness -- because our thoughts create our reality. But negativity -- pain, trauma, frustration are just as much a part of life and the human experience as joy and goodness. There are no inherently good or bad thoughts or emotions, those things are only the meaning we're taught to assign to them.
We're taught that one way to think or feel is bad and one way is good, rather than how to connect with ourselves and how to manage and accept all our normal human emotions. We're taught to suppress, rather than express anger. We're taught to avoid, deny or numb our pain. We're taught to not talk about things that are "too deep", lest a conversation get too "heavy" and someone think we're a "downer" or "negative".
So we suppress, numb, avoid the negative stuff but everything we face, or feel is designed to teach us something. The purpose of pain, for example, is communication. Physical pain is how our bodies communicate with us, emotional pain is how our spirits, our souls communicate with us. When we suppress, deny, numb or force positivity, we don't learn anything. We cannot learn from or move past pain or anger if we're stuck in resistance to it. Instead, we stuff it down, ignore it, and keep trying to numb what we're feeling. We don't give ourselves the opportunity to get quiet so we can feel, listen and learn what the pain is trying to teach us -- how it's trying to help us heal and grow.
We end up carrying it with us while slowly just gets heavier and harder to carry.
It's incredibly unhealthy. Denying or blocking negative emotions creates emotional stress and has not only been linked to mental illness, but also to physical problems like heart disease, intestinal problems, headaches, insomnia and autoimmune disorders. So no, you'll never hear me tell you to always be positive. You shouldn't always be positive. You should live in the present moment and always find something to be grateful for. If you're able to read this, you have privileges that millions of other people all over the world, don't. So be grateful. You should expect good things to happen and know that you deserve goodness. You should be curious and analytical of your thoughts and emotions. "Why am I telling myself that? Is it true? Is it helping or harming me? Can I retrain myself to believe something more positive? Can I find something to be grateful for? Eg. Telling yourself that you suck isn't helpful, nor is it true so getting curious and critical in your assessment of that thought can help you understand that and give you the space to change it to something more positive like, "I'm doing the best I can today and that is enough." Or for untrue and destructive body thoughts like, "I'm so disgusting" you could switch it to "I love and accept my body and know that self-love heals all wounds." You shouldn't wallow in negativity but you should allow yourself to experience and to really feel every emotion, even the uncomfortable ones. Get used to suffering through the uncomfortable ones so you learn that you can survive them.
And like the curiosity with thoughts, get curious with negative emotions. Why am I feeling this way? What needs to be healed in me? What is this trying to tell me/teach me? We've been taught to run and hide from negative emotions but the only way to move forward and past them is to feel our way through them. The more we fight, resist, block and deny them, the more they fester and create problems.