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Why I’m not joining your positive thinking cult…

December 22, 2011

The other day someone tweeted that doing social good for her meant only tweeting positive things and good news. I rolled my eyes and muttered, “How on earth is that helpful?”

I am a firm believer in yin yang. The idea that opposite forces are connected and dependent on each other – that one cannot exist without the other. After all, how would we know what good is if bad didn’t exist? Our daily goal should be to find and maintain balance in our lives – balance between too much of anything.

Whether or not we acknowledge the existence of negative things in the world, they are there. No amount of positive thinking is going to prevent bad things from happening to us. If we choose to ignore it, we risk being unprepared when negative things do happen. Does that mean we should be walking around like a grouch? No, but there is a happy middle ground between negative and positive extremes. A middle ground that prepares us for the worst while hoping for the best.

Being unprepared for negative events is only one of my issues with too much positive thinking. Another issue is the potential for laying the blame on individuals for the negative things that happen to them. Things that are beyond anyone’s control. The idea that positive thinking can protect us from negative things then implies that these negative things that happen to people are deserved. That somehow someone did something to deserve cancer or some other terrible disease. Or that the guy with the corner office positive thought his way in there rather than working his butt off. These are obviously extreme examples but fall in line with the same train of thought. Ultimately, bad things happen to good people and to bad people. It is about accepting it and coping/moving on. Sometimes there just isn’t an explanation for the amount of pain in a person’s life. It is not necessarily a reflection of who he is. What will say something about him is how he has dealt with whatever life has thrown his way.

It’s nice to believe that the universe conspires to get us what we want but maybe it would be easier on our souls if we didn’t take it so personally. That we just have to accept what comes our way and cope with it as best as we can. You do your best and that is all anyone can ask for. Does this belief absolve us from doing anything? No. Does it mean not even bothering to participate? No. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a lottery ticket.

Not to mention that some of the most brilliant and creative minds we know are borne out of strife. And if you think about the negative things that have happened to you, aren’t you a better person for it? A lot of positive change has come out of negative events so why do we think that we’re better off without it? Because it’s hard? Sure. But Thomas Paine said it best when he wrote,

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods…

Call me a realist. Call me whatever name you want but I’m not joining your positivity cult. Now let the good times roll…

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From → Mind

18 Comments
  1. Lisa Byrne permalink

    Well said. Did you know that the scientologists believe that bad things (health even) happen to people who are bad/do bad things? And we know what I think of those people…

    • Oh I do, Ms. Byrne. Lots of bad things happened to John Travolta… What does that mean? I wanna hear more about your thoughts… over wine… a lot of it! 😉

  2. Of course negative things happen, but there are cults of people that all they do is spew negativity all the time. Sometimes I wonder if they even know what they are doing or if they get some sort of pleasure out of this. These are the folks that complain all the time and nitpick on others (eg. what ugly hair, dumbass driver, slowpoke at Starbucks, etc) and after a while that just gets grating and I wonder if they have anything nice to say. I have a twitter follower which tweets start to finish are mostly negative. This close to un-following them.

    Sure I try to stay positive and it actually makes me feel better. Done the be angry all the time and it just led to a bunch of bad things in my life. I know you talk about a happy medium which is great. It’s the extremes that are the issue and I’d rather be on the positive side vs. the negative.

    Now shut up and have a nice day! 🙂

    • What are you waiting for? Unfollow this person at once!! 🙂 Wait, is it me? I take it back!

      Too much of anything is a bad thing regardless of which end of the spectrum. It’s all about balance!! But if I had to choose, I’d pick the positive side as well. No one wants to be around a Debbie Downer. Except sometimes I tend to feel like happy, perky all the time people are less authentic than the grumpy ones…

      Now YOU have a nice friggin’ day!

  3. A hundred and 8 times yes! It’s about finding the middle path and being brutally, compassionately honest with yourself and others. Perkiness chaps my a$$.

    I think the difference is peeling back the layers to the truth (like Arjuna collapsed in the chariot) and operating your life from there. It’s not always positive or cheery. The truth, your truth, my truth, etc, free of attachments and ego will be enriching to those around. That’s the difference.

    There’s also a space for “fake it ’til you make it.” But, again, if done with pure detached truthfulness, it does let the good times and the bad times roll. As you say, it allows for all the experiences to come in and be embraced for all the pain and love and everything in between.

    I’m about to get all serious now. Every time someone says, “____ never gives us more than we can bear” or some such, I want to scream at them. The 11 year old girl I was that was abused and tortured got more than I could bear. The baby girl I lost was more than she or I could bear. I spend every day recovering from more than I could bear and I’m still not sure I’ll make it. I know I’m strong. I also know that some things. Some things go beyond the pain.

    • “Perkiness chaps my a$$” may be the best comment I’ve ever read.

      You are the perfect example of the beauty that fire creates and you got exactly what I was saying. It’s not about looking for hardship either. It’s about facing life and seeing it as it is. “Seeing the truth” as Buddha calls it.

      There are so many stupid, inadequate things that we say to people that are supposed to make us feel better like “What doesn’t kill us…” or “Things happen for a reason.” And I swear a piece of me dies every time someone says that. Maybe we could teach people to simply say, “I hear you.” Because at the end of the day, isn’t that all we’re hoping for? For someone to hear us?

      Thank you, Zoie – for your insight and for being inspiring!

  4. Thank you. I’m all for positive thinking on occasion, but you’re exactly right about yin and yang. I find it frustrating that there seems to be a suggestion that we should never feel angry or sad or whatever, because those emotions are ‘bad’. Actually, those emotions can be very useful indicators of a situation that’s less than ideal, and very powerful motivators to change that situation.

    Getting stuck in either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ emotions is potentially dangerous. Repressing ‘negative’ emotion in pursuit of ‘positive’ is just as unhealthy as wallowing in negativity. It’s all about how we respond to those emotions and situations. As you said: “Sometimes there just isn’t an explanation for the amount of pain in a person’s life. It is not necessarily a reflection of who he is. What will say something about him is how he has dealt with whatever life has thrown his way.”

    Of course, allowing ourselves to feel the full range of emotions can be far more difficult to do than it is to say… 🙂

    Again, thanks for such a post so grounded in realism.

  5. And thank you, Sophie, for your eloquent comment! Too much of anything is a bad thing. I spent the holidays eating rich food day after day and admittedly I don’t feel like I really appreciated it as much as I should have.

    No one should feel bad about how they feel. You get to the root of most things when you are honest with yourself and guilt more often than not stands in the way of that.

    Thanks again for sharing this post! (I’m surprised there haven’t been any hateful comments!) 🙂

  6. I follow Bob Ross’ philosophy in life: we need the dark to bring out the light.

    Or was it the other way around?

    • I think you have it right. Man, Bob Ross was so wise. Remember when we used to rush home so we could watch his show right after school? Love that ‘fro!

  7. I’ve yet to be accused of “…too much Positive Thinking”.
    It’s just not that big a problem in Boston, nor Metro DC, for that matter.
    So far I’ve been lucky, but I know it’s out there looking for me… Eeek!

  8. Excellent! Nothing to add.

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