The Problem with Positivity

Posted in Lifestyle, Mental Health by

Hi. I’m Alice, and I’m a recovering serial optimist.

I’m the first person to admit that, at times, I’m almost sickeningly positive. Yes, I’m that person – the one who, when you just want to be a bit angry at the world, is scrabbling around for the faintest hint of a silver lining, forcing you to “look on the bright side”. I used to think that this was the healthiest way to live life, getting frustrated with anyone who dared to be negative in any way, almost as if I was terrified to admit that things weren’t all peaches and cream. I’ve since begun to embrace negativity, and understand that sadness and anger are healthy emotions too – after all, they’re all part of what makes us human.

Just as I’m beginning to embrace the cynical life, positivity and motivation seem to be the ‘in’ thing – Instagram pages and Pinterest boards are alive with self-help rhetoric, and everyone is shouting their new-found motivation from the rooftops.

“She believed she could, so she did”, “your only limit is you”, “a positive attitude will lead to positive outcomes” & “whatever the mind can believe, the mind can achieve” are just a few that I’ve seen today alone. They seem to be particularly popular on Social Media, which I think is probably part of our need to depict an image of the perfect life online. There seems to have been an influx of motivational books from ‘inspirational’ business figures that echo this too, seemingly capitalizing on this trend of positive thinking.

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At this point, you’re probably thinking ‘oh for God’s sake Alice, stop being so ridiculous! What’s the harm in a motivational quote or two?’ – and I understand. But think about it this way; if you’re being told left right and centre that YOU are the only one standing in your way, who are you going to blame if it doesn’t go to plan? This type of thinking doesn’t factor in any of the ‘real’ stuff, like opportunity, financial advantage or circumstance. Instead, it tells you that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, and if you aren’t successful, you just aren’t trying hard enough. I’m not saying that this would be damaging for everyone, but for those who are already vulnerable or suffering from mental illness (perhaps the people most likely to be looking for motivation in the first place) it’s likely to be problematic. And surely, if someone has low self belief, they may even feel like they shouldn’t bother to begin with? It could go from “I can do anything I put my mind to” to “I’m a complete failure” at a pretty alarming rate.

I don’t have a problem with the notion of positivity in general, of course. I have so much support for the idea of self care, as it encourages us to be kind to ourselves. It’s a different type of positive thinking – one that doesn’t blindly assume that positivity is the key to success, but that promotes internal forgiveness whether we succeed or not. A certain degree of cynicism can be healthy, because it’s realistic – it’s understanding that life isn’t a fairytale, and allows you to prepare for alternative outcomes. To me, this is the message we need to focus on. It’s a refreshing and beautiful thought that you can do anything you put your mind to, but life doesn’t work like that. Not everything is in your control, sometimes things don’t work out, and that’s perfectly okay!

Some of my thoughts are echoed in Derren Brown’s SUPER interesting book Happy, so if you liked this post then I’d definitely recommend a read.

What do you think? Am I being silly, or can positivity sometimes end up being kind of negative? Let me know in the comments!

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January 29, 2017
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5 Comments

  • Reply Sam Lawson

    I totally agree, and I find posts and quotes along the line of “you’re doing brilliantly” so much more comforting. It’s a fact that things don’t always go to plan when there are variables beyond your control, and I think it’s a lesson most people could do with learning.

    (Oh and I can’t think of anything more insufferable than irrepressible positivity, but I suppose that’s the cynic in me speaking.)

    Great post! X

    January 30, 2017 at 1:53 am
    • Reply Alice

      Ahh Sam I’ve only just seen this! Thank you ? I’m really glad this made sense and I’m not the only one thinking it. I think we all need to focus on encouraging each other without losing a grip on reality and ending up disappointed xx

      February 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm
  • Reply Mum

    Oh well said Alice … positivity has a place but being realistic, and negative things have a place too … other wise we would never know when positivity hits us !!!

    January 30, 2017 at 10:57 am
  • Reply Sophie

    Definitely a post that many could benefit from reading. I completely agree, even though it’s great to be positive sometimes things just aren’t in your control and you can’t blame yourself for that. Thank you for writing this post!

    -Sophie xx
    Cherries & Perfume 

    November 21, 2017 at 9:30 am
    • Reply Alice

      Thanks Sophie, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I do just think that positive thinking rhetoric could ultimately lower your self esteem – and it’s perfectly okay to not be positive all the time! Xx

      November 21, 2017 at 9:10 pm

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