The Right Way to Approach Positivity and Negativity in Life

The key to pursuing happiness is to accept that negativity is the path to positivity. It sounds contrary to conventional beliefs, but I wholeheartedly believe in it.

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My thoughts were inspired by the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, written by Mark Manson.

The key to pursuing happiness is to accept that negativity is the path to positivity. It sounds contrary to conventional beliefs, but I wholeheartedly believe in it.

As a serial entrepreneur, I built multiple businesses – ReUbird, NoteSity and RakoSell. I once thought I had to be happy all the time and successful in order to live a good life. I should avoid things that make me feel upset, disappointed or frustrated. After all, these feelings are not “good” feelings humans want to have. As time went by, I realised, no matter how hard I tried, it was not possible to feel happy all the time. It was because things that could happen to me in reality were mostly uncertain and beyond my control.

I started questioning, “does a good life mean we have to feel happy all the time?”.

Happiness, indeed, can be a problem. Suffering is part of our life. The concept of dukkha in Buddhism spells this out. We might temporarily fulfil our desires but suffering – whether physical, emotional or mental – cannot be avoided. Life is unsatisfactory; we suffer because we cannot accept change or we have become attached to possessions or sensation that cause craving. We just cannot be happy all the time.

To better understand happiness, we also need to learn the concept of hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill is a metaphor for the human tendency to pursue one pleasure after another. The surge of happiness that’s felt after a positive event is likely to return to a steady personal baseline over time. A common example of the hedonic treadmill occurs after an individual wins the lottery. At first, the person is ecstatic to have become a millionaire overnight. After several weeks or months, the newly-minted millionaire becomes accustomed to her new lifestyle and experiences a corresponding decrease in happiness. I once had a first-hand experience. When our company grew well in our catering business (到會 in Chinese), we were not satisfied. We started to expand to our cake business (生日蛋糕 in Chinese). We never felt having enough, falling into traps of the hedonic treadmill.

Everyone wants us to believe that the secret to a good life is to have a well-paid job, achieve financial freedom or develop a better relationship with friends. All of these definitely make us happy – albeit temporarily. Pursuing something only reinforces that you lack it in the first place. It is not wise to only keep pursing things that make us happy. We also need to accept having negativity in life and reckon that negative emotions have a certain degree of utility.

Accepting your experience of life – both positive and negative – as being great and awesome is the single greatest thing you can do for your happiness. We need to learn to accept and tolerate negativity in life, instead of trying to avoid it.

Since we are not going to live without negativity, the best way to deal with it and live a good life is to confront it squarely. Choose struggles or problems that we want to face – what pain do we want in life? What things are worth us struggling? These pains, struggles and problems are going to give meaning to our life and make it worth living.

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