A Case Against Positivity

Via Buzzfeed

I’m not against positivity despite what the title suggests.  I’m against forced positivity.  Suggested positivity.  Positivity movements.  I wrote about my disdain for positive affirmations.  “Positive” and “positivity” have negative connotations for me and this time of year is lousy with positive messages hence my crankiness.  It’s a perfect time for a well-thought out think piece/rant on the subject.

I hate any reminders to be positive because I don’t think you need to be reminded.  I don’t think you have to do anything to be a  “positive person”.  Being reminded to be positive or any attempts to be sold on the idea that being positive is somehow a superior mental and emotional state makes me want to be negative, to take up negativity’s cause.  Because as I’ve written many times I hate being told how to feel or that how I currently feel is somehow wrong.  If I’m feeling it, it’s right. Maybe valid is a better word than right.

I feel more “positive” when I’m left alone with all my feelings, good or bad, and the freedom to feel them all for as long as I want.  This is the kindest, most positive, most affirming thing I do.

The other night I watched one of the worst movies ever.  It was called “Passengers” and it was clearly inspired by The Sixth Sense and starred Anne Hathaway.  It was awful.  It didn’t work for me.  It wouldn’t work for anyone with eyeballs and a brain.  The movie was almost universally panned by major critics.  Are they and am I being negative?  Think about it this way:  I watched every minute of this piece of garbage.  I watched it all hoping it would get better so I wouldn’t feel like I wasted my time.  The fact that I watched the whole thing makes me generous.

Here’s my point:  what matters is showing up. Paying attention.  Being honest.  Philosopher Joanna Macy:

It’s OK not to be optimistic. Buddhist teachings say, you know, feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out, so just be present… The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here, and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world.

Feeling like I have to be positive wears me out.  Sometimes I don’t have any more capacity to love the world.  And then suddenly I do.  Not by forcing myself there but by letting it happen.

I’d like the positivity movement to die and be replaced by a curiosity movement.  There’s something about wonder, admitting you don’t know, and asking questions that’s inherently life-affirming.  It’s hard to be negative and curious at the same time.

But again, sometimes negative is all there is.  Some things are just shitty.  Sometimes the best thing you can have is righteous anger.  I’d rather be around a raw, angry, honest person over a falsely cheery person with a perma-smile. I like a person as described by Victoria Safford, someone who lives in a

lonely place, (a) place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

The positivity movement and its endless propoganda has wormed its way into thinking.  The other day I was feeling blue and I decided to be positive! and try to find the humor in it.  I attempted to craft a joke about my life.  Here’s the joke I came up with:  Everything sucks.

I laughed and laughed.


9 thoughts on “A Case Against Positivity

  1. I so agree with your eloquent post. It’s far better to be realistic and take the good with the bad, and deal with it all. I am a cancer survivor, and a “friend” brightly told me that SHE never gets sick, as SHE always thinks positively…(unlike me !!… never mind that everyone in my immediate family who died of cancer had the mutated gene that I also have) She actually told me that she believes that positive thinking prevents cancer and other illnesses!!! That told me that it was time to weed my friendship garden.


    1. Lauren, good for you for beating cancer. Your friend sounds so annoying. I think it was Oliver Burkeman who wrote that people who believe in positive thinking and positive affirmations are the angriest people when confronted by the fact that it doesn’t work. That makes me laugh.


  2. Love this post. Once my counselor suggested I get a diary called the ‘Gratitude’ diary, and when I saw it it made me want to smash something. I think all that positive stuff bugs us so much because it’s actually fake. Big fakery-bakery business. We prefer to deal with what’s real, in my opinion. Am so glad you wrote this post.


    1. Right Karen — how is being fake supposed to make anything better? My hope when I write posts like this one is that it resonates with someone and I don’t just come off as crotchety. I’m so glad that happened with you.


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