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Positivity’s PR Problem

No, Radical Positivity Doesn't Mean Ignoring Reality.

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“You’re just ignoring reality!” I was sharing some data I’d been reading about in the 2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace report, and my friend wasn’t having anything to do with it. “That’s all just psychobabble trying to get us to ignore all the terrible stuff going on! Your daughter’s in a war zone! How can you believe that garbage about happiness?!

Clearly, positivity culture has a PR problem. Frequently, I see (hear, read about) positivity framed as an attempt to eradicate or ignore negative experiences and emotions. That’s unfortunate, on two fronts.

First, if that’s your goal, you’re probably doomed to epic, miserable failure because life just doesn’t work that way. Negative experiences and emotions serve a very valuable purpose. They warn us about pending or present danger. They alert us to the need to change, and they motivate us to actually make those changes. Sadness, fear, anger, frustration, grief, annoyance, and all the other ways that “bad feelings” manifest in our world aren’t the problem.

And that’s the second problem. Positive psychology and the growing desire to channel the power of positive thinking (gratitude culture, random acts of kindness, etc.) have perhaps not always done a fantastic job of explaining what their actual goals are. So, when somebody tells me that I’m just fooling myself when I advocate for positivity (and I do, in radical and outspoken ways!), I can see where they’re confused. We have an image problem!

1-You’re ignoring reality

No. No, I’m not. I can’t speak for everyone, and in fact I do know people who just choose to ignore the environments in which they live, and those situations vary from amusing to catastrophically tragic. Sometimes there are mental health challenges creating an out-of-focus perspective, or sometimes people are simply desperate to believe the stories they’re telling themselves. The obvious issue with this approach is that real challenges will arise in life, as part of the human condition. If you ignore them, you are less able to address those challenges in healthy, viable and sustainable ways.

For me, living a life focused on positivity and gratitude doesn’t include ignoring the bad stuff that crops up, it means balancing that awareness with the hard-earned knowledge that things will change, I do have at least some agency over my life (and for sure over my reactions to my life), and that whatever’s going on is just temporary. This gives me the boost I need to address, accept or otherwise manage whatever’s going on right now, at least 90% of the time.

2-You can’t make me happy!

Well, yes. I’m well aware, and frankly, I’m not even trying to make you, or me, or anybody else happy. I love the work of many of the positivity gurus who embrace this concept, but I believe that happiness is way to measure whether you’re living life in tune with your authentic self (and I know.. that expression is verging on overuse.. indulge me for just a minute).

Do you know what drives you? Do you have a clear vision of your Life Purpose? Have you paused to consider what in your world really sparks you to get up, get out there, and DO… whatever it is you need to do to realize your vision? This doesn’t mean quit your day job and move to a yoga retreat… unless that’s truly something that aligns with your core values and your mission statement for your life.

3-I’m being positive — and life is still hard!

Right. I know. I really do. This morning, one of my kids (she’s 20) finally got her driver’s license. When she was 14, she was in a serious car accident (and 6 months prior to that, her older sister almost died in another incredibly severe car accident) and broke her jaw in three places, and it’s taken this long for her to face the complicated emotional threads wrapped about the experience and take that big next step. In the spirit of Brene’ Brown, I’ll embrace some vulnerability here and admit that I am deeply terrified each time one of my kids becomes a licensed driver. No amount of affirmations, journaling, gratitude jar filling or meditation can completely eradicate that residual fear.

And yes, my daughter is in a war zone, and we frequently go for long periods of time not knowing where she is, what she’s doing, or if she’s even alive. And every time there’s a news story about fatalities in the region where she’s based, my friends and family (usually out of the most kind of intentions, honestly) make sure I know about it. Yikes! No ignoring that surge of parental “SAVE THE BABY” adrenaline that we’re wired to produce so we can snatch our DNA-carriers out of harm’s way.

What my work on positivity and gratitude has done, however, is allow me to move forward with life, looking that fear straight in the eye, acknowledging it, and stepping into the next stage anyway. I’m not paralyzed by it, and I’m able to help those around me tease apart the links between their emotions and their actions and actively choose their own future.

Radical positivity isn’t a magic spell, it’s not a blindfold, and it certainly isn’t delusional. It is, however, an incredibly powerful paradigm for approaching a world that’s not always on our side, and in spite of those challenges, living a full, rich, exciting life filled with adventure, hope, joy and gratitude.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my insurance company and discuss rate increases. I’m positive they’ll be excited to hear from me! 🙂


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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