I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains. ~ Anne Frank
People sometimes ask me, “how can you be so positive?” I will attempt an answer here. With a caveat.
A proclivity to be positive.
I am not always positive. I have my down times; and I have written about how I deal with them. I am not even sure that I am so positive. Sometimes I feel just lukewarm positive. And I have to work at building up from there.
But, I am positive more often than I am not. When something doesn’t go my way, I gravitate towards a positive rather than a negative explanation. Difficult situations don’t pull me down easily. And when they do, I tend not to stay down for long.
To explain my proclivity to be positive, I have to share my thoughts about why we are negative.
Why we are negative.
Some of the reasons we are negative are physiological. They have to do with our genes, hormones, or other such factors. And I am not qualified to discuss them1, so they are beyond the scope of this article.
Notwithstanding those reasons, there are three reasons I think emotionally healthy adults fall into negativity. The first is the assumption that negativity helps. We are usually negative about things that may happen in the future. And we worry about them. Because we assume that worrying will somehow prevent those hypothetical events from taking place, or help us deal with them.
The second reason is that we like to be negative. When we are negative about particular situations, we are often playing the role of victim. We are victims in our relationships. Victims at our jobs. Victims of society. And on and on. Being victims allows us to blame our unhappiness on external factors. We don’t have to take responsibility for it. We don’t have to act. So, negativity feels like a cozy place to wallow.
Finally, we are negative out of habit. Our conditioning predisposes us to thinking a certain way. So if we have always been negative, we will tend to continue being that way.
My tendency to be positive results directly from my belief that the above reasons are true.
When I catch myself in the midst of a negative thought I ask: “is there anything helpful about this thought?” Usually, there isn’t. I find that I am just telling myself a story about a situation I can’t control. So I stop. Immediately. But every so often, my negative thought gives me useful information. I find out that I am feeling negative or worried because I haven’t prepared sufficiently for an exam or I haven’t planned well enough for a trip. So I stop thinking, and start doing whatever I need to do.
Second, I have realized that playing the victim feels good only up to a point. It is like eating too many potato chips. They taste good at first, but ultimately, they make you feel awful. And you realize you would have been better off eating fruit. Similarly, I know that if I want to be truly and deeply happy (and not just pretend to myself), I cannot play victim. So I take charge of my life and my happiness (see, Own Your Happiness). And if I catch myself playing victim, I force myself to stop and ask, “what can I do make this situation better?” Then, I follow through.
Finally, I try to cultivate a habit of positive thought. I try to find the positive in my life and focus on it. The more I do it, the easier it gets, and the more positive I become.
The only choice I have.
So, except when it is giving me a useful message, negativity doesn’t add anything to my life. It only brings me down. And I have no use for it.
On the other hand, being positive adds to my life in leaps and bounds. It allows me to enjoy my time on this planet. It improves my relationships. It makes me happy. So practically speaking, being positive is a better choice. But actually, it is not a choice at all. Because if I truly want to be happy, it is the only choice I have.
1 I am not a mental health professional. If you suffer from depression or any mental illnesses, please know that my heart goes out to you, but that I cannot help you. Please seek the assistance of a trained professional.