Sometimes, things suck

Positive thinking.  We’ve all heard of it, chances are some of you even try to do it.  I don’t.  Can’t stand it.  When people tell me to “think positively” my heart sinks.  Why?

Life isn’t all positive.  Sometimes it’s painful, hard, frustrating and downright annoying.  It can also be wonderful, inspiring, uplifting and joyous.  Sometimes it’s neither.  But too often to take a stance against mindless optimism is to be seen to be “negative” or pessimistic.  But neither optimism or pessimism captures reality, the glass is after all both half full and half empty.

This week Wallace Chapman and I talked about this and the history of positive thinking, as a self help movement.  We also talked about the pitfalls. (Click here for audio of the interview…)

For me, this sums it up…

 “Fortunately, the alternative to optimism is not pessimism, which can be equally delusional. What we need here is some realism, or the simple admission that, to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “stuff happens,” including sometimes very, very bad stuff. We don’t have to dwell incessantly on the worst-case scenarios — the metastasis, the market crash or global pandemic — but we do need to acknowledge that they could happen and prepare in the best way we can. Some will call this negative thinking, but the technical term is sobriety.”  (Click here for the whole article).

Realism, or emotional “sobriety” as this article describes it means allowing feelings to happen and impact us.  To truly feel the emotional impact without clinging to it, or rejecting and avoiding it.  It is one of the philosophies at the heart of mindfulness practice, and involves a full and willing acceptance of all that is before us good, bad or otherwise.  It means a full engagement with reality, not just the bits we want or expect.  But how is positive thinking dangerous?

“People who view the world through rose-colored glasses are wonderfully optimistic and seem to harness the power of positive thinking. This often helps them; even spurs them on to great success. Unfortunately, their look-only-at-the-positive attitude sometimes sets them up for painful failure; especially when they meet up with very real limits to their abilities, resources, or opportunities. When this happens, they often feel crest-fallen and view themselves harshly.” (Click here for the whole article).

It’s a long way to fall back to Earth from the mindlessley optimistic view.  And sometimes seeing things positively is just a bit delusional.

No one says that better than Monty Python…

Leave a Comment

  • John August 26, 2013, 11:54 am

    I’m 53, and what I have found is that people can choose how
    they are going to respond to any event in there lives. You can get
    a flat tire and get extremely upset or angry. This is not a
    resourceful response to the situation. You can just accept the tire
    is flat, I need to fix it, get out the jack and the spare and
    change to the tire. I know many people who can take a relatively
    minor event as a catastrophic event become completely unable to
    manage the event. I also know people that experience catastrophic
    events and seem to breeze right through them managing them very
    effectively, they may feel the emotional side after words. In my
    own experience having lived through two 7.0 earthquakes, the first
    thing I do is make sure I’m not injured, people around me are not
    injured, then contact my family to ensure they are safe. By
    choosing what we focus our attention on we can control the
    emotional impact in the moment. Yes some people choose to view the
    cup half full and life is good, surprisingly for the most part they
    are right. Some people choose to view the cup half empty and
    surprisingly, for the most part they are right. What you believe is
    what you perceive. No one is negative or happy all the time
    sometimes it is useful to be angry or frustrated. It’s how you
    choose to be most of the time that will define your life. In my

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald August 26, 2013, 4:07 pm

      Couldn’t agree more John.

  • Carol Randal August 26, 2013, 5:13 pm

    If I could think “positively ” I suppose I would. But then
    again I may not. I am constantly riled by the righteous positive
    thinkers who lurk in my life, online and offline. Sometimes I feel
    the urge to draw together a cogent/cutting argument against such
    fiddle faddle, but then the urge dies and I really can’t be
    bothered. The phrase ‘whatever Trevor’ surfaces and I get on with
    my pessimistic (not negative), reality- driven existence. Great
    post thanks. 🙂

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald August 28, 2013, 8:46 am

      Thanks Carol.

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