Today’s bookstores are filled with books about happiness and success. And overall, we see more and more authors, writing about positivity. I think this trend has been there for a while, but it’s not surprising, that many people find it slightly (to say the least) flawed. Or to say it even better, I find it flawed.
Not my thing
Positive thinking has never been my thing. Many would call me a negative person, while I call myself a realist. Real life is not always about flowers and rainbows, as you know, and accepting this fact has been one of the most important steps in my recovery journey. Ironically, I've become happier.
Ever since I started getting “brainwashed” about the need to always look at the bright side, I also started to experience more anxiety, associated with shame. This shame is a result of thinking that there must be something wrong with me, because I am not able to always be grateful, look joyful and “simply be happy”, while I have absolutely “nothing to complain about”. Denying my own feelings about certain situations I’d feel nervous and sometimes depressed. Because at the end of the day, if they could do it, I can as well, right?
Not really. According to study conducted in 2012 at the University of Queensland, when people think that others expect them not to feel negative emotions, they start feeling them even more. Isn’t it obvious when you think about it? I’m sure, there are people who were born with the smile on their face, and being positive comes natural to them, but not all size fits all. Being open to all emotions a human being is able to possibly experience without judgement can be healing for most of us. Positive thinking requires a judgement such as: this is a negative emotion; I don’t want to feel it right now, etc. Fighting it can bring more damage than relief.
According to psychology professor of Wellesley College, Julie Norem, by thinking about what could potentially go wrong and processing negative possibilities, people can relieve anxiety and are often able to avoid negative outcomes. Being “negative” can help. But I would simply call it being yourself.
Making it worse
I’m sure many of us suffer from others’ judgement about always being “negative”, worrying with no reason, complaining, being depressed, when “everything is great”. They think they help by saying: cheer up, you have nothing to worry about, it’s all in your head, etc. I feel like by always staying positive people become blind to others’ pain and suffering. At the end of the day real problems do exist, and instead of closing our eyes to it we should be able to share our struggles and search for ways to deal with it.
Let yourself feel all kinds of emotions and recognize them without judgement. If it comes natural to you, to always be happy - great, but if you started to feel like you are making yourself feel a certain way, and it's stressing you out, don't force it, just accept the way you feel, even if it's not a pleasant feeling. Life is about ups and downs. Sometimes it takes us to feel bad for a while in order to be able to appreciate something good in the future.
 Bastian B, Kuppens P, Hornsey MJ, Park J, Koval P, Uchida Y, Feeling bad about being sad: the role of social expectancies in amplifying negative mood, abstract, 12 February 2012, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21787076>
 Professor Julie Norem talks with the Globe and the Globe and Mail on the Benefits of Negative Thinking, press release, 25 March 2013, <https://www.wellesley.edu/news/2013/03/node/34397>