“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” —George Eliot
NOTE: You can either read my snarky rant about positive thinking, or you can just read this awesome article that inspired it. Or you can read both, but depending on how positive you are, you may not be able to handle that.
We’ve somehow all survived the Thanksgiving holidays, and while it would be appropriate to put up the obligatory post about all the things and people I am thankful for having in my life, I’m not going to do that. I’m not an unappreciative, ungrateful kind of person. It’s just that the people in my life *know* how much I love and appreciate them. They received a text or a phone call or a Facebook message or an e-mail reminding them, and I don’t restrict this sort of “I’m just reminding you that I like you!” stuff for holidays.
I actually have a lot for which to be grateful, and the way I live my life is generally to express what I feel, in some form, most of the time. I don’t need a holiday for that. I will express my feelings in the moment, or in a moment soon after that one. You don’t have to know me very well to have figured that out.
Of course, there are also many things in my life for which I am not grateful. They are difficult, challenging, confusing, overwhelming, or just plain suck. I don’t give thanks for those things, even though I’ve been told they’re making me a better person, and being more positive would allow me to see the blessings in the things that suck.
However, I am a realist. I love the things that make me and those I care for happy, and hate the things that don’t. It’s pretty simple.
I’ve written about this topic before, but I have been defriended on social media sites, received scathing comments in response to me expressing my thoughts and feelings, have had people refuse to associate with me, followed by spending time discussing me behind my back in unflattering tones….all because I am not “positive” enough. This is especially true on Facebook, where I’ve had people write “Every time I read one of your posts, it’s complaining about something”. and “Why do you have to post all these negative personal feelings? Nobody really cares and it brings everyone down.”, and even, “Sorry you’re sick, but do you think everyone wants to hear about your problems?”
This seemingly disproportionate response to expression of feelings that are not positive and upbeat shocks me. In fact, when I used a tool to analyze my Facebook posts, it characterised about 70% of them as either “thought-provoking” or “optimistic” in tone. Overall, my Facebook page is more positive than negative, more emotional, more profound, and more concerned with social issues than most. Yet, people don’t like me because I am not positive.
I freely admit, I am snarky. I comment on the things that annoy me or suck about life with a wry sense of humour. I don’t pretend that “challenges are just triumphs in disguise!”. I think “The Secret”, and most self-help books like it, is utter crap. I don’t believe there’s a secret to happiness or to changing your life. Dream boards and visualizing what you want in order to make it happen is kind of like praying for what you want, without doing anything positive to accomplish that goal. There’s no magical formula. It’s great to understand yourself and want to improve your life, but “Closing the door to negative thoughts and people!” isn’t what’s going to get you there. In fact, most self-help and motivational seminars that encourage you to think about positive things and your life will be positive are selling you the oldest trick in the book: denial. When you plaster a smile on your face and deny that sucky things happen to you, and it’s OK to be angry, upset, pissed, and negative about them, chances are good that you’re going to see some anti-depressants in your future.
Shockingly, I’m not a terribly negative person. However, I don’t have blind faith in anything. Things don’t just “all work out in the end” because you’re a “good person”. Read a history book. Plenty of great, positive people didn’t exactly have things work out for them, and plenty of people you wouldn’t want to know have been very happy.
I’m an idealist. I see people and the world the way they could be, and am so often hurt and disappointed that’s just not the way things work out, so much of the time. I am often disappointed. I often feel let down and not valued enough by others. I am often shocked when someone is hurtful or throws something in my face, or claims to love me, yet causes me to cry. I am often looking for something greater than what I have, because I believe on an intuitive level that such a thing exists. However, I’m also realistic enough to understand that I often experience emotional chaos because I attempt to inflict my unrealistic ideals on the rest of the world, and my fellow human beings often do not operate in the same way that I do.
I am also a realist. I know the world doesn’t work the way I would like it to. The legend of Camelot has always been a story close to my heart (hence Lady Guenevere as my screen name everywhere.), for a number of reasons, but an important one is that it epitomizes the duality of my personality. Camelot fell because of human frailty. It was pre-destined to do so; yet, people never stopped believing they could make the world a better place and build something ideal. The ideals never matched up with reality, and the consequences were devastating. Yet, somehow, idealism could co-exist with a firm grasp on reality.
Things don’t always work out in the end. Things disappoint you, people let you down, you fail, bad luck knocks at your door. It doesn’t mean you should stop believing that your life will be filled with positive moments. It does mean that if you’re unprepared to acknowledge negativity and adversity because you won’t allow such ideas in your positive head space, that adversity is going to knock you flat on your ass when it’s your turn to get screwed over by “how life works”. And it will, someday, be your turn, no matter how positive you are about you and your life being charmed and perfect and full of everything you’ve ever wanted. That attitude didn’t work during the 1950′s—it led to people drinking Scotch and popping Valium on a daily basis, but hey, they were smiling— and it doesn’t work now.
Yes, whoever you are, whatever your challenges and things for which you should be grateful, there will be moments when your life just sucks. Something will happen that isn’t fair. Someone will be a petty, jealous asshole and try to tear you down. The stock market will plummet and you’ll lose half your money. A flood or an earthquake or a hurricane will come to your part of town. You or a loved one will get sick.
Inevitably, you’ll have to deal, and the “secret” to dealing is not to visualise a world where everything is so much better and trust that positive thinking means that the Universe or God or whomever is going to fix things for you. You’re going to have to know how to cope, and how to fix things yourself. I maintain that cultivating an outlook based on fake smiles, cliches, and denial in order to “focus on being a happier person” isn’t going to equip you with the survival skills you need. And one day, you are going to feel extremely negative about the fact that cliches and smiles and dream boards don’t protect you from the bad things in life, and avoiding anyone who talks about “negative” things in their life is not only unhealthy for you, it is, at the core, self-centred. “The Secret” seems to be to focus on how awesome you are so frequently that you lose patience and empathy for those who are struggling and suffering, and turn your back on those who need support because they are bringing negative energy into your world. The irony is that you are obviously struggling and in need of support, too, only you’ve found it in a book that claims to have all the answers rather than in other human beings, or deep within yourself.
I don’t argue in favour of toxic people. Toxic friendships and relationships can harm you, can hold you back, and you should like yourself enough not to tolerate them. This is not the same as saying “I don’t want to know you because you’re too negative” to someone who will discuss both positives and negatives openly.
I believe in a full range of emotion and human experience. Nowhere was it ever said that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. We’re not. Sometimes we are, and that’s great. Sometimes we’re sad or pissed off or suffer a loss or uncertain about the future, and that’s OK, too….unless we don’t have anyone in our lives with whom we can honestly share feelings because they’re all too busy searching for the elusive Holy Grail of “positivity, light, and happiness”. I would not want to live in a world where everyone was happy and bursting with self-esteem, announcing how great they found life and other people and themselves, every single day. I know some people like that, and frankly, they annoy the hell out of me. I don’t find it genuine, and the facade makes me angry. As much as people dislike me for being too “negative”, “snarky”, “jaded”, “cynical”, or “realistic”, I want to scream and shake people and say “Why can’t you just for one second behave like a real, multi-dimensional person?!”
However, that’s just me. This page is called “Jaded Elegance” for a reason, folks. You’re not going to find affirmations and self-help here. I do believe in learning about yourself, learning about others, and finding ways to cope with life that enhance the good moments and help the sucky ones suck less. I do believe in friendship, love, compassion, empathy, and tearing down the walls that people build to protect themselves from the world…but only succeed in creating falsehoods and alienation.
I don’t think that deciding to be happy made you happy. I think you lost weight because you decided to stop eating pizza and get on the treadmill. I think you found the right person after years of horrible relationships because you took the time to get to know yourself, and gained enough self-esteem to stop dating jerks and losers. I think you found your dream job because you finally had the nerve to go out and chase after it. If a book or a religion or a seminar did that for you, that’s great, but I think you’re selling yourself short. It may have inspired you to do something better with your life, but you did that for you.
And just because you made positive life changes, don’t start believing life will always be positive and peachy because you’re now one of those “positive mindset people”. Sucky things will still happen, on a regular basis. Hopefully, though, you’ve acquired the necessary tools to deal with them in a healthy way.
We don’t live in a world of happy, and all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to make it so. In fact, “Positive Thinking Is For Suckers!”, or so says this article I love.
Should people be happy? Of course. But trying to be happy, to the exclusion of focus on much else, is the same reason that those who are trying out a new diet rarely succeed. However, they become much less entertaining, telling you the calorie count of every single bite of food they eat, without losing a pound. Focusing all your energy on “being happy” is actually code for focusing all your energy on why you’re not happy now, making you a negative person in denial.
Living in the moment seems to be the best strategy, one that makes me the happiest when I can remember to employ it. Remember, we’re not promised an endless amount of them. Waiting for that day when we’re going to reach some ideal, to “be happy” means not taking advantage of a lot of days in between that could have been a lot of fun. Yes, some of those days will suck. I’d like to think the fun and memorable ones make up for it.
You can look at the glass half-full if that’s your choice, and I won’t judge that. You can bitch about the glass being half-empty all day long, and that doesn’t bother me one bit, either. As for me, I just see a glass with equal amounts of volume and empty space, and think, “Well, that’s usually how life is, isn’t it?”
On really good days, my glass is filled with a chocolate martini, garnished with a cherry. I promise, that’ll give a little boost of positive thinking to anyone.
In the end, it’s just life. It’s good and bad, black and white, positive and negative. But as long as you have a tomorrow, you have a chance to do it all over again. In my experience, the cherry will be there when you least expect it. However, when you demand the cherry on top, that’s the day the kitchen will be out of them.