Can a positive attitude be bad for you?
I spend a lot of time exploring what most would coin “Emotional Intelligence”.
“the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”
It is something that I believe is infinitely more important than intellect. Far more valuable than intelligence, more important than any technical skills. My quest for knowledge on the subject has lead me to this question: Can an overabundance of positivity actually be a bad thing?
We live in a world rife with positivity, which, by most accounts is a good thing. There have been entire movements based on positive thinking. It has become an industry unto itself. Global bestselling books like The Secret extol the virtues of positive thinking. Based on concepts like The Law of Attraction which suggests we have the ability to attract into our lives that which we focus on. As a general philosophy, I tend to like this ideology and do my best to focus on positive thoughts.
The challenge that I think we face is that this outlook has become so popular that we are inundated with affirmative messages carefully crafted by the self-help gurus whose very interests align with we the masses, buying into the dogma. This has caused a few things to happen that I am observing.
Firstly these positive messages, affirmations and declarations have become meaningless platitudes so overused that they have become as useless as trying to tell my teenagers to put their dishes in the dishwasher. We say them over and over and over but yield little results.
We see them daily every time we log into our social media accounts. We are ever seeking to brandish the title of the most jubilant specimen of the human condition to ever leave a mark on the Internet.
True, from time to time one of the many messages may resonate and pierce the ever hardening armour protecting us from our banal surroundings. These moments I fear seem to drift further and further apart with each passing day. Even the ones that do make it through we tend to accept at face value without digging deeper, without scratching below the surface to contemplate their meaning to us as individuals.
We blindly share famous quotations that once had meaning, never pausing to ponder how, why or if they are truly applicable. What if, before every share of someone’s quote we took the time to requote in our own words, in a manner befitting our circumstance character and situation? Would we then take heart to the words that swirl around us like a hurricane of letters in an episode of sesame street?
It is this blind acceptance of the plethora of positive messages wherein lies the potential peril.
What if we don’t actually feel positive? What if, despite all the kind words of our friends, the shared Instagram memes and Facebook quotes, life still sucks at the present moment?
How then do we reconcile our grief, loss, sorrow or pain with this concept of positivity? Is it possible to believe in the law of attraction and still allow ourselves to ‘feel’ the emotions that are actually coursing through our bodies? Can we do it or do these very messages of positivity become our staircase into gloom?
Have we made ‘feeling bad’ such a shameful act that we fight to not allow it to happen? Does this actually have the opposite effect? Do we start feeling bad for feeling bad? Does this become a perpetual cycle driving us ever deeper into the darkest recesses of our being?
In times of struggle, it can be hard to face the myriad of negative emotions that can easily build up like plaque on teeth. We do after all attract what we focus on, don’t we?
We should sing songs, chant positive mantras and, like Stuart Smalley, tell ourselves that “Gosh darn it people like me”.
While I believe all of these can be tools in your toolbox it is important to remember that while they may be tools, you are the craftsman and you get to decide which tools to wield at what time. We need to accept that it is perfectly ‘OK’ to be ‘Not OK’. We need to accept how we feel regardless of which side of the positivity coin we have landed on. We need to accept without judgement. We need to accept and embrace them taking the opportunity to observe and explore. Get curious about what your emotions are doing to you. Observe how you are feeling mentally. How you are feeling physically. Where do these emotions manifest?
I heard a really nice summation of this recently expressed in a manner my logical, formulaic mind could get behind.
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
In other words what we resist persists. The more we can wrap our arms around these negative thoughts, hold them up to the light and observe them, the sooner we can move through them.
A good friend of mine once said something to the effect “Everything awesome is on the other side of something shitty.”
Think of these as opportunities. Make it a game. The worse they are the more unique the opportunity. When Colleen was murdered I was given an opportunity that most will never have in their lifetime. Granted it is not an opportunity I would wish upon my worst enemy, it was, however, an opportunity. Who am I to squander this gift that she has given me?
Just as there can be no light without dark, there can be no positive without negative. Practice accepting these negative feelings, observe them and listen to what they have to teach us. The lessons can be in real time. It takes some effort but if we can practice detaching from our emotions and observing them without judgement we can see things that we may otherwise miss.