Unpopular Opinion About Positivity

pointless overthinking unpopular opinion about positive thinking
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

Provided by Jo Harkness, blogger of I Need to Say This

I’m making the deliberate and unpopular choice to not live positively. I’m not saying I am choosing to live life negatively as an unhappy grump. I am choosing to live with my emotions, both negative and positive, and not force either one on myself.

I was transferred from the abusive job into another position seemingly to support my professional goals. I’m sure it was our department chairperson’s best intentions to make this transfer. But it wasn’t a good transfer, and it was clear from the beginning that this transfer was not going to work.

I had two new supervisors: my immediate supervisor Heather and her supervisor Susan (names changed). Before the transfer was official, I was required to meet with Heather and Susan to discuss what I would be doing. Susan made it clear that I was not wanted in my position.

“If we don’t like you, we will have to let you go,” she said while Heather sat silently behind her desk. I think my face betrayed me. I know that you cannot simple let someone go because you don’t like them. Susan quickly recanted, “If we don’t like your work or think you work fast enough, we will let you go.” Then she reminded me multiple times that my current job was being eliminated, and if I didn’t take the job with them I would not have a job.

I felt defeated and I hadn’t even started the job. I told my husband and my best friend this exchange and how it made me feel. They encouraged me to give it my best shot and not to worry about the past. Think positively, be confident, don’t give in to the negative thoughts in my head. My therapist at the time said the same thing but she believed more in the “what you put out into the world is what you get back” theory.

In other words, “mind your own thoughts, stay positive and focused on your goals, ignore self-doubt and criticism, visualize and concentrate on what you want and you will eventually have it.” Mark Manson, “The Staggering Bullshit of ‘The Secret’”

In the end, the situation didn’t get any better, no matter how often I told myself that I was a strong, creative, and smart woman and this is the job I wanted! I felt very much alone in my supposed negativity because the negativity I was feeling was wrong, or so I was being told.

Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author, wrote this about positive thinking: Positive Thinking could be considered the high fructose corn syrup of the thinking world– when forced. It’s not necessary, natural, and research has found that it’s not good for us when we have to sell ourselves on it.

Jordan Harbinger, journalist and podcast host of The Jordan Harbinger Show (Best Podcast of the Year 2018, Apple Podcasts), writes in his article The Downside to Our Upside: The Problem with Positive Thinking: This is the movement (the Cult of Positivity) that says we need to grit our teeth and smile, commit to unshakable optimism, deny difficult facts, and suppress any thoughts or feelings that don’t conform to the expectations that the positive belief system demands.

For six months I kept my office minimalist. My co-workers and my therapist would encourage me to decorate my office. I just smiled. I didn’t want to be the person carrying a box of their things out of the office to the surprise and chagrin of their co-workers, and I felt certain that this would be in my future. I wasn’t wrong.

Chansky’s article is the best at addressing balancing positive and negative thinking. She writes, “Negative thinking starts with some kernel of the truth — for example, let’s say we aren’t happy with how we look one day, or with news we receive — but then it extends, expands and sensationalizes that news into a whole new theory about ourselves, casting doom and gloom as far as the mind can imagine…Our job is to not buy into the National Enquirer version of our lives…instead cultivate a different interpretation or spin on the story, soliciting the factual if dry Scientific American version. We will be feeling better because we’ll be thinking more accurately.”

So how do I make sure I’m not giving into complete negativity? Chansky writes, ”If we are taking ‘truth’ as our barometer, of course it’s ok to be positive — because genuine joy and happiness–dispersed in wonderful though fleeting installments — is authentic… These feelings are not manufactured or tinkered with, not labored over in the fields or factories of our minds, they are spontaneous. So, welcome spontaneous positive thoughts, but don’t knock yourself out trying to fashion them out of thin air when they just aren’t there.”

Harbinger encourages us to embrace all our emotions, even the negative ones. He writes, ”When we cherry pick positive emotions — or suppress the negative ones — we end up missing out on a number of highly useful “negative” feelings.” He uses anger as an example; anger propels us forward “searching for innovative solutions, and develop new ideas.”

He admits that anger can be counterproductive, just like negative feelings can be counterproductive. But if we process and apply our emotions correctly, our emotions can be useful to us. Harbinger writes that we have to accept that our emotions are part of our experience as a human.

I may have wallowed in self-doubt and worry in that old job, I did get something right. At my worst I asked my husband if it would be okay to just do the best I could do and still fail. He hugged me as he said that if I did my best I wouldn’t fail. He wasn’t blowing smoke or forcing positivity. He was being honest. If you do your best work, and it still doesn’t meet expectations, what else are you supposed to do? That’s the rationalization I need instead of forced positivity.

Fuck the law of attraction.

*Originally posted on I Need to Say This*

22 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion About Positivity

  1. “Positive Thinking is the high fructose corn syrup ….” I love it!!!!! 👍🏼

    I’m a victim of this militant positive thinking and quite literally cheerled myself into a hole of eventual breakdown
    Never again

    Now my positivity looks like
    – no more catastrophic thinking or imagination
    – questioning every thought and belief
    – not clinging to happiness
    – not getting lost in the narrative of my life
    – forgiving myself all the time
    – graciously receiving my own forgiveness


    1. Shedmyhalo, thank you for reading the post. I love your positivity. I always felt like a fraud when I forced myself into this positivity role. Especially when I wasn’t feeling it. I dragged myself when I was feeling content and peaceful, I should be POSITIVE! Like it’s this extra thing. I like what Bogdan wrote, “I believe positive thinking should be nothing more than realism with a dosage of hope.” That’s such a great quote that I’m going to write it down for those days when I’m starting to drag on myself again.

  2. I think it’s brilliant how much reading, learning and research you’ve done in your efforts to master your emotions. To me, that’s exactly the kind of positive thinking that leads to results. I agree that the ‘ra-ra’ optimism is rarely useful. The most useful thing I’ve ever learned about negative emotions is that they carry useful information. Pushing them away means we lose the chance to capture that information and use it. I was in a situation like yours many years ago and ended up leaving the job even though I loved the work itself. It wasn’t until years later that I found out my boss was under massive stress and was fighting for his job too. I had been so busy feeling aggrieved it had never entered my head that his difficult behaviour had absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s little wonder things got so bad between us – I was adding to his stress through my reactions to him and he was already up the wall with stress as it was. That’s another lesson I’ve learned about positive thinking – sometimes the most positive thing we can do is let go of our expectations of others and accept that they are also going through things that have nothing to do with us. These days, my version of positive thinking is to assume that people have reasons for behaving as they do and that those reasons are not about me. It makes me feel far more resilient and far better able to present my best self. I’m still amazed at how often it makes a difference and I get treated far better by people I would have written off in the past.
    Sorry for the super long comment! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for sharing it and good luck with your next steps.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful comment and I’m glad Jo. shared this with us. I believe positive thinking should be nothing more than realism with a dosage of hope 🙂

    2. BHL, thank you for the comment. I have generalized anxiety disorder so I have to be careful of my negative thoughts. My family is very good about helping me see when my thoughts are catastrophic versus normal worry thoughts. Because of the situation, my family thought maybe this was just an anxiety-induced resistance to the job. But it wasn’t. I was being totally honest with myself about what was going on and I knew things were not good.

      The two bosses weren’t like your boss. They were just fine. They were forced to take me because my job was being eliminated and no one wanted to lay me off. But I do know that my boss’s boss always had problems with me. We think it’s because I didn’t come from her background but was given a seat at her table when my then boss didn’t go to her meetings. In her eyes, her work was very exclusive, and I was not welcome. And I wasn’t welcomed later when she was forced to take me on. It was just a really bad situation all around.

      The cool thing is, I figured out (with the help of another post on this blog) why I needed to get on with life. https://ineedtosaythis.home.blog/2019/06/24/living-your-miserable-why-part-1/ if you’re interested.

      1. That really does sound like a tough situation. Brilliant that you gained support from someone on this blog and were able to move on. I’m heading over to read the linked post now. Thanks for sending it.

  3. Well said. Usually, in order for me not to feel down about being disappointed, I do things as good as I can, while expecting nothing

    Being positive is actually very draining and appears to be rather unrealistic, I guess. Not every good thing happens everyday, with or without our own interference

    Instead, I try to be patient

    1. Thank you, TMR!

      I always think of positive people as these crazy cheerleaders or the church ladies who walk around and hug on the necks of everyone they see and cry at the drop of a hat. People who take positivity to the extreme. Your comment reminded me of this one lady at church who was always positive. She was on the Praise and Worship team, she was always walking around and welcoming people and hugging people, even if she didn’t know them. One Sunday I went to church and I had this HUGE zit right by my lip, I mean Mount Vesuvius sized zit, all red and large, something Dr. Pimple Popper would love to get her hands on. She came up behind me and was saying “Hi there, lady!” As she turned around to face me to give me a hug she stopped dead in her tracks. That mask of happiness and love just fell away as she looked at me in horror. She didn’t hug me, she didn’t finish her sentence, she actually didn’t finish hugging and welcoming the rest of the people on the aisle. She just booked it for the front of the church.

      I always laugh at that. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it would be to keep up the veneer of being that positive and happy all the time. I love that she was horrified by my giant zit. I think if we’re just honest about our feelings we don’t have to pretend and we can be happier people. That’s all I want from life.

  4. This is how I feel about people who bring up how bad complaining is for you when you complain about literally anything or even just talk negatively about anything. There is a difference between talking out your feelings of frustration and letting them go. And looking at everything and finding something wrong with it.

  5. Lovely post. I’m an optimist at heart, always have been and always will be. That being said I recognize the difference between optimism and positivity. I love to be positive, but recognize that this is not something that can be sustained. For me being positive is fleeting, an emotion that no matter how hard I try I simply cannot grab true hold of. Negative is not awful, negative is honest feedback from our systems when something is wrong. Being upset is truthful. I too struggle with the “positive only” people of the world, “good vibes only” doesn’t mean no negative, it only means hearing and releasing the negative when it comes and holding onto the positive for as long as you can. Thanks for shedding the light on the “positivity cult” and the damages of holding yourself to a singular standard.

  6. Wow! Really enjoyed this read. I’m so sorry you had a job like that, that’s awful. Something similar happened to me, without rightly being told upfront however.

  7. Good article. Now I may be coming from left field here, but I was left wondering why you would stay in a place that didn’t want you? Sounds like this situation was presented to you as a way for you to take your power back from these negative people who had no problem letting you know how they felt about you. They made it clear that there was nothing you could do that they would hold any value in. As you said, your days were numbered. Seems to me, your lesson was to get yourself out of the situation and not allow others to treat you badly. You were a toy to them, and they relished in your discomfort. Was it right for them to treat you, or anyone, that way? Of course not. We can’t control others, but we can control how we react to them. Playing into their negativity, only made them stronger and sucked all of your energy out of you. That’s why you always felt so drained after dealing with them. Some times the worst things in life turn out to be the best things. Sending light-n-love and wishing you the best.

  8. It’s my experience that those negative feelings are a neon sign saying that I need to change something I’m doing like improve my attitudes how I work with someone. OR it’s my intuition trying to let me know that I need a bigger change such as changing jobs. The negative feeling is not an in invitation to victimhood; it is an invitation to make a change. People who feel they must always wear a happy face so that no know one knows they are struggling make me sad and I try to avoid them. I also believe in experiencing and processing your emotions rather than stuffing them down.

      1. Right, so they are pointing to what in myself is out-of -whack. Why does something bother me so much? Why did I set myself up for this failure? Did I self-sabotage, for instance. Did I stay in a situation past the point that was optimal? I think about (maybe overthink about) the negative so that I can prevent recurrence and/or learn something.

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