Did you read it?
If you haven’t, you might want to take a few moments to look now.
But it doesn’t matter if you don’t.
Even though I think you’ll enjoy it.
See how bossy I’m not being? It’s because I want to talk about the positivity movement, and how bossy it is.
Because seriously, have you ever noticed how pushy the THINK POSITIVE crowd is?
Do this. Think that. And whatever you do, don’t think that!
It’s a lot of work.
It feels like there’s always something we should be doing.
To “help ourself. ”
And some of the messages are frightening.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to think that feeling non-chipper is wrong.
As if we’ve failed in some way.
As if we should be doing better.
Positive psychology is swaggy right now
Everyone’s doing it.
(Swaggy means dope. Cool. Popular. I Googled hip words and this was number 3. Just trying to stay current, you know.)
But just because everyone else leaps onto a water-slide filled with alligators doesn’t mean you have to. If it works for you, fine. But for some people, like me, it doesn’t.
Here are 5 common but flawed positivity beliefs that can make you feel worse, not better. Plus a fresh way of seeing things for genuine ease and contentment:
FAULTY BELIEF #1: POSITIVE THOUGHTS ARE BETTER THAN NEGATIVE ONES
As the author of a sort-of-spirituality blog, I am, as you would expect:
Fearless. But also relaxed.
Highly skilled in social situations.
And like any respectable goddess, I dance like an angel (as long as it’s 1990, The Dance Exponents are playing, and I’ve had 2 jugs of beer).
My friend just saw what I wrote and asked who I was talking about.
When I said, me, she laughed.
She said, “What about how you get depressed?”
Alright. Since we’re going there. I do get depressed sometimes.
Even about small things.
And sometimes, I have loads of critical thoughts.
I mean, I have gentle and contented ones too. But I also have those, you are an idiot ones.
Like the time I walked through a crowded restaurant with the zip of my skirt undone while wearing a thong. (The skirt was tight. I was young. There was a lot of bum.)
And I worry.
I worry that I left the stove on.
I worry that I’ll accidentally do something to ruin my marriage.
I even worry about writing emails. If you emailed me about a serious matter and didn’t receive an answer, I probably spent half an hour writing a reply then felt too shy to send it.
And I often feel awkward and uncool.
Like when the cashier at the French cafe forgot to give me my change.
And I was too nervous to tell her.
You may be more screwy than me. But I suspect you’re not.
My biggest problem with the think positive movement is the assumption that there’s something wrong with our lunatic thoughts. That there’s something wrong with us for having them.
But there’s not.
Your mind is just being a mind. And having a mind is called being human.
Once you realize this
Strange or anxious thoughts are not nearly so unpleasant.
We can do battle with our thoughts.
Or we can see them as just thoughts.
We don’t have to try and notice them. But when we do, we can choose to engage them or simply wait for them to pass.
But don’t negative thoughts cause our life to be bad?
If you read Part One of this article, you’ll know that the evidence about the benefits of positive thinking is sketchy at best. In fact, trying to perk yourself up with positive self talk—unless you’re already feeling awesome—makes a lot of people feel worse.
Sometimes it can be helpful to challenge a thought. To ask, is this really true?
But even still.
Having grumpy, whiny or insecure thoughts doesn’t make us flawed. It makes us human.
Denying our grumpy, insecure side. Judging our self for failing to be upbeat, and just generally wishing we were other than we are, is far more negative than just saying, ah, so yeah, I have negative thoughts.
Accept your negative thoughts, and you start to genuinely feel better about yourself.
This might not happen immediately.
But the more you remind yourself that you’re O.K., even though you’re breaking every get positive rule in the “Be Chirpy or Die” rulebook, the more you genuinely start to feel O.K.
Then you don’t have to try to be anything. You just are.
FAULTY BELIEF #2: WE MUST LEARN TO CONTROL OUR THOUGHTS
Trying to control our thoughts is like lassoing a bucking bronco made of jelly.
Sure we can learn to control them somewhat, through meditation practice or white knuckle determination. But it’s also missing the point.
Thoughts roll in from who knows where.
They roll out again.
And this happens all day, every day.
One minute we’re thinking about the sad state of public health care in the US and the next we’re counting how many days we ate watermelon and mint salad this summer.
(About 150. We like it.)
It can feel overwhelming when we’re beset by an angry, negative bunch of thoughts.
They seem solid.
As if our whole entire head is filled with the horrible thought.
But here’s the irony.
Trying to change our thoughts, especially when they’re gnarly, is often the MOST DIFFICULT WAY to have them leave.
We might be able to manage it for a short time.
But trying to feel optimistic and happy all the time?
If we don’t feel like it?
Seconds later, our crappy thoughts are back.
What can be more effective is to see them as just thoughts.
Separate from us.
Our annoying thoughts are like an annoying dinner guest who talks loudly and annoyingly all evening.
But they do eventually leave.
And the sooner we ignore them, and stop trying to control them …
the sooner they do.
I don’t know about you.
But I find this reassuring.
FAULTY BELIEF #3: EASE DEPRESSION BY THINKING LESS NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
The advice to think positive is even more funny (stupid) when we’re feeling depressed.
Because depression IS a head full of crappy negative thoughts.
People often think that we feel depressed because we think negatively. And that if we could just change our thoughts, then the depression would lift.
But there’s more to it.
Depression is what it feels like when the warm, loving, and wise, part of us, quietens down. Let’s call it our heart. And as a result, all we’re left with is cantankerous thoughts.
So instead of this sort of balance
We have this
It’s like our negative thoughts have been given a megaphone, and the guy in the sound booth has left the building with the volume turned up high.
Our heart is still hundo P with us. It’s just taking a break.
(Hundo P means 100%. Cool word #18)
Depressed people are hilarious.
Have you ever been depressed?
Have you ever been with someone who’s depressed?
If you answered yes to either, you’ll know that depressed people are not hilarious to be around. It can be pretty challenging actually. But a depressed person’s thoughts are often so skewed and out of balance, they are ludicrous.
When I’m depressed, I feel listless. As if I’ve had cement poured into my blood.
Innocent comments feel like a right hook into my deepest insecurities.
I know that when I’m depressed my perception is faulty.
But when I’m in the middle of it, it seems like other people are being dickish.
Another thing that happens, is it feels like everyone talks more loudly. I feel like my personal space is being invaded.
I try and think, ah look at everyone having fun. Isn’t it great to see couples and families together. How cool is it that my backyard is like the United Nations.
But after about 10 seconds I’m back to wondering why all the annoying people in the world decided to hold a an Annoying Person’s Convention in Venice today.
In fact, trying to change my thoughts when I’m depressed is like asking a small kitten to direct traffic on the 405.
(The 405 is my favorite congested Los Angeles freeway. Franco and I spent an hour on the on-ramp around the time we got together. It always feels like returning to the scene of one of our first dates.)
The good news is. We don’t have to believe our thoughts. In fact, when we’re feeling like this, it’s a good idea to actively NOT believe them.
Think of it like you’re having a “thought cold.” A thought cold is like a flu of the mind. And like the flu, it feels crappy, but it will pass.
All you have to do is keep your germs to myself.
It’s not like we always need to stay in bed whenwe feel flat. Or have to be alone. Sometimes it’s really helpful to go to the movies or just carry on with my day.
The bottom line is that being depressed sucks. And when we’re depressed we aren’t ourselves.
But whether you decide to ride it out, talk to someone, take medication—know this:
Your heart, with all it’s warm feelings, is still there, it’s just being quiet at the moment. It will return, and with it, so will a sense of ease.
It doesn’t feel like you’re intact or that there’s love all around you. But you are. And there is.
(Read more about depression and depression and relationships)
FAULTY BELIEF #4: RESEARCH BASED HAPPINESS STRATEGIES WILL ENHANCE YOUR WELL-BEING
It’s easy to be swayed by professors and best selling authors who seem to have all the answers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love learning and reading and picking up new ideas.
I’ve tried plenty. And I’ll try more.
But in figuring out what to do, there really is only one thing to consider
For instance, I have no idea if reading my articles is helpful for you.
But you will.
And helpful doesn’t mean it always feels good. Learning new things can feel discombobulating. They might even make us feel sad or angry initially.
But we usually know when things are true and useful for us.
If something doesn’t gel—even though it appears to work for other people, and sounds logical—leave it be.
Some of the biggest knots we get ourselves into come from following the advice of others.
Dare to trust what feels right for you.
If you want to curl up in a ball and wait for your stupid thoughts to pass—do that.
If you feel like going outside to breath some outside air—do that.
If you want to call a friend for no other reason than to cry—do that.
If you want to challenge some of your thoughts—do that.
If you want to Google the latest in happiness research—do that.
If you want to send me a pair of size 10 red boots—do that. (That was sneaky)
If you want to talk to someone, professionally—do that.
If you feel like going to a bookstore—do that.
If you feel like writing—do that.
If you want to ditch every self help book you’ve ever bought and play badminton—do that.
And if you’re not guided one way or another, play around.
There’s no right or wrong.
FAULTY BELIEF #5: SELF IMPROVEMENT ALWAYS REQUIRES ACTION
Can I share one of my life changing moments?
A few years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine.
He said to me, “You’re know you always see the negative side of things, don’t you?”
I thought I was upbeat.
People thought I was pleasant to be around.
I couldn’t be one of those negative people.
I was worried.
What should I do? How do I fix myself?
Here’s the bit that changed everything. He said:
“You don’t have to do anything.”
He also told me that I probably wouldn’t always be this way. But that I was right now.
When I thought about it, my negativity made sense.
I’d been sick for years. It probably wasn’t surprising I’d got into the habit of expecting things not to work out.
I love the idea that it’s okay to be how we are.
It’s the quickest way to move forward anyway. Especially once we stop judging whatever grizzly insecurity we have.
We ALL feel insecure. Even people who look like they don’t, do.
Feeling at ease is about connecting with our sense of self love. We all have it. It just gets covered over by our finicky mind obsessing over how we’re not good enough.
We think feeling confident, calm and contented comes from taking action. But teeny shifts—uncoverings—happen constantly. Without us realizing.
While we’re working at the job we hate but that feeds the family. While we’re rubbing our husband’s feet. While we’re walking the dog. While we’re reading another rejection letter. While we’re curled in a ball wondering how long this can go on for.
Things are shifting. And over time it accumulates and we feel it.
I’m sure that one day, just naturally, I will have less critical thoughts.
But for now, sometimes—not always—this is how I am.
And it’s O.K.
It has to be.
Because this is all I got.
PS: Love to hear your thoughts ideas and experiences if you want to say hi below 🙂
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5 Tips For Genuine Contentment That Fly in the Face of the Positivity Movement (Pt 2)