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How many times in your life have you been told 'just think positively'? It's such a common phrase that we hardly even notice it any more. We are bombarded daily by blogs and articles about the power of positive thinking. That is not to say that attempting to look at the world with a brighter view is not a good thing, but breaking things down to such a simple cliche is just not practical. When you're having the bad day to end all bad days, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong and all you keep hearing is to 'look on the bright side', it is not helpful. In fact, it just adds a new layer to your disaster cake of a day.
The truth is that if you want to try and live your life in a more positive, grounded, and optimistic way, it takes work and common sense. You can't just will your bad feelings away by thinking 'well, it could be worse'. I mean, yes, it probably could be, but it's not. It is what it is and what it is feels like crap. Yet, we live in a world which tells us that we must not acknowledge negativity, because it breeds further negativity. That is just patently untrue. Perpetuating negativity and passing it around is what breeds it, like any infectious or poisonous thing. Acknowledging how we actually feel, when we feel it, and being free to do so, frees us up to release that negativity.
Negative feelings are so quickly labelled as VERY BAD, MUST NOT DO. Have you ever tried to will yourself happy? It's like try to give a cat a bath or put braces on a goldfish, entirely unpractical and potentially dangerous for all involved. Fear, anger, envy, regret and guilt can be great motivators and they are our most effective teachers. Learning how to hold, acknowledge and then release these feelings makes us more equipped each time they come around. If someone breaks their leg, you don't tell them to just ignore it and pretend it's not broken. You tell them that you're sorry they're in pain and you hope they heal quickly, but in the mean time, is there anything you can do to help.
You know what the real power of positive thinking is? It isn't 'oh, this isn't so bad, others have it worse', it's 'okay, I felt like utter crap yesterday, but today isn't so bad. I got through that'. Using the banner of 'positive thinking' to try to shame yourself into feeling better is an oxymoron. Yes, others might have things logistically worse, but how you feel in the moment that you are feeling it is no less valid. Getting through that, being able to feel and then release it, is an achievement that is worth a positive acknowledgement.
You don't have to reinforce negative thought, in order to take something positive from it. We have got to stop telling the world and ourselves that we don't deserve to feel bad. We have to remember that we are human and our negative emotions are what alert us to the fact that something is wrong. It is an opportunity to change something that makes us unhappy, instead of burying it and letting it turn us into bitter, haggard shells, who paint on a plastic smile and determinedly tell the world that everything will be okay.
Now, don't get me wrong here. I am not trying to throw shade at positive thought in general. If you're feeling happy and content, that is awesome and you should embrace that, but if it's forced, then you're not really happy, are you? Isn't it better to deal with the root of unhappiness, than to simply wish it away?
This even applies to the larger things in life. We all get compassion fatigue from seeing so many gross and horrible things happening in the world. You can almost feel yourself closing off and where something would have shocked you once, now you can just turn the page or flick the channel and let it sift out of your mind. It's how our minds protect themselves from a constant onslaught of disaster and pain. It would be pretty hard to function if every national emergency caused your brain to have a total meltdown. You do not have to consume that negativity. Just as you do not have to consume the rhetoric that there is something wrong with YOU, if you don't fit the standard description of health and happiness that is laid out for you. Contrary to popular belief, you do have a choice in how you live your life and whilst I cannot claim any supreme knowledge on how to be happy, I can tell you from the benefit of a great deal of experience, that it is not a 'fake it 'til you make it' kind of deal.
Positivity is not currency. Your happiness cannot be bought and sold by other people. It is yours. And you know what? So is your negativity. That's yours. You own it. You earned it. If you lost your shoe, put your favourite pair of headphones through the washing machine and got your finger caught in a door, you're allowed the write that off as a crappy day. If you're going through some stuff that makes you feel like your head is going to explode, then that is how you feel. You can't out-think your own brain. You ARE your brain. If something feels wrong, then something IS wrong.
Trying to look at the world in a more positive light and keeping your spirits up is fine. A happy thought can turn a bad mood around. Totally cool. But let's not pretend that it will cure all the ills in the world. When I'm having a day that makes me want to go back to bed and hide from everyone, thinking about what lovely weather we're having is not going to cut it. I need to sit and feel that. I need to let my brain do its thing. I need to feel awful for a while. As long as all the essentials are done, the house is still standing and there's no immediate emergency, I am allowed to sit with that emotion and let is run its course. Then, I try again and I recognise my achievement in getting back on track despite how horrible I felt before.
I must clarify, this is not necessarily applicable to those suffering depressive illnesses. That is an entirely different set of circumstances. In those situations, it's not as simple as sitting with your feelings and letting them pass, because they may not pass without assistance. If you do suffer from mental ill health and anyone tells you to 'just think positively', tell them to tie a bungee cord around their waist and try to run away. Maybe that will help them see the futility of that statement. If not, at least they will be stuck there and you can walk away from them. Also, see a doctor, take meds, get therapy. Do whatever you need to do to be as well as you can, because you deserve wellness and peace of mind as much as anyone else.
For everyone else, stop believing the lie that if you just think positively, then everything will be alright. Sometimes, everything WILL be alright, but the chances are, it's not positive thinking that got you there. As will most things in life, it is a combination of things. The world needs balance. Positive and negative. You really can't have one without the other, so stop letting anyone tell you otherwise. Your feelings are valid. Your sadness matters. You can grow from it, learn from it, and ultimately, lead a more positive and fulfilling life because you're not wallpapering over a broken window. Fix the damn window. Put that little bit of extra work in and you won't need to cover anything up. Positive thinking becomes much more natural, when it's not being used to hide something else.