Having a negative attitude really gets a bad rep. Consider the slogans we face daily on social media and painted on workplace walls:
“Just be positive!”
“Choose your attitude!”
“Keep calm and carry on!”
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”
“Live. Laugh. Love.”
“It takes more muscles to frown than to smile!”
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”
“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
“You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow!”
I could go on, but I’ll stop before I break the exclamation point on my keyboard.
If this dose of positivity platitudes leaves you feeling a bit nauseated and cynical, you’re not alone. We’re living in a time of positivity culture overload, when starry-eyed optimism is prized even when it’s not really merited, or even accurate. After all, it’s true that You Only Live Once – but technically, don’t You Only Die Once as well?
So why didn’t #YODO become the famous hashtag?
The Dark Side of Positivity Culture
Back in 2014, when author Carolyn Gregorie wrote an article investigating how happiness became a cultural obsession, she noted that there were over 40,000 books on “happiness” listed on Amazon. Today, there are now more than 60,000 books matching the same search term. That’s a 50% increase in just five years.
The happy, feel-good positivity movement seems to be at an all-time high. Oddly, it stands to reason that we’re actually feeling the opposite. If we were really content, would we need to tell ourselves to “be positive” so often? If we felt fulfilled in our everyday lives, would we be so concerned about making lemonade from lemons? Is possible that we might actually harbor (gasp!) negative attitudes?
A clever entrepreneur and author named Mark Manson gained New York Times bestselling book fame after writing The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*$% – an unabashed leap to the other side of the positivity epidemic. He shuns the notion of try, try-ing again with a better attitude. “You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon,” he says, “And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of f*$%s to give.”
A Positive Attitude Can’t Cheat Death
Beyond Manson’s colorful language lies a sound basis for his argument:
Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.
As we bury our “negative attitudes” with shallow positive buzzwords, we do ourselves a disservice. We increase our own suffering, struggling, failure and shame in the process. This is even true for the darkest, most negative experience we can imagine: death. There is value in recognizing the grim reality that we all face. We are born, we live, and we die. No positive attitude can help us cheat the end of life itself.
How, then, can we make better use of the days that we have? How do we achieve lives of deep meaning without slapping fake smiles on our faces and pushing through until we achieve happiness milestones?
Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?
At home or in the classroom, and then in the workplace, it may have seemed that some people were naturally more cheery or outwardly resilient. Our culture posits that some people are born to be optimistic than others, living lives of non-stop blissful positivity. Nothing can get them down or hold them back! They will achieve all they desire in the world. The message largely communicates that it’s better to think positively.
Other people seemed more negative or “down in the dumps.” There are disparaging words for people like this, like “Negative Nancy” and “Scrooge.” These nicknames imply that patterns of outward joy or sadness are concrete personality characteristics rather than learned behavior. People are cast as having a negative attitude, rather than a natural flow of emotions both light and heavy. They insist that positive thinking is the most desirable trait, disregard what’s really happening inside, and reinforce stale behavior patterns.
We develop views of ourselves as relative optimists or pessimists within this framework.
Transformational Positive Thinking
Contrary to the stories we build about ourselves and others, we are not born statically positive or negative thinkers. We are simply sentient beings who experience emotions and react to them in different ways. Over time, we can adopt new ways of engaging with our emotions that can transform our lives. These behaviors make up what we call transformational positive thinking, and this is something that anyone can adopt.
Transformational positive thinking bestows power on those who embrace it, and strengthens emotional intelligence. It’s not visible from the outside in the form of a smile or laugh, and it certainly doesn’t look “positive” according to our traditional understanding of the word.
Shifting to transformational positivity requires us to slow down and embrace our heavy emotions, such as sadness, fear, anger, disgust and shame. Rather than hiding or denying these emotions, we recognize them fully and give them space to dwell in our minds and hearts. We lean into the dark “negativity.” This enables us to process these emotions fully, and to release them when appropriate.
Transformational positive thinking also leans deeply into our lighter emotions, such as joy, trust, hope and surprise. Sometimes, weighed down by the heaviness of to-do lists, repressed emotions or unresolved problems, we have difficulty embracing the lighter side of life. It may seem trivial or even irresponsible to do so. This new way of thinking gives us permission to break through these barriers and fully experience joyful emotions without embarrassment or guilt.
Be More Negative!
When we learn to honor and fully experience our full range of feelings, we become empowered. This approach enables us to harness the energy of all of our emotions. Embracing negativity enables us to feel joy and delight more fully.
Transformational positivity is the key to showing up more powerfully and authentically in your relationships and your career. If your goal is to live a life of deeper meaning, the next time you feel a heavy emotion, consider the option to embrace it and “be more negative!” You may be positively surprised by the outcome.
Support to embrace the negative
If you struggle with being your authentic self and find that you are often putting on a happy face, you are not alone. Social pressure to be “positive” is at an all-time high, and having a “negative attitude” is frowned upon. At Engaging Breakthroughs, we offer support for people who want to embrace their full range of emotions in a way that is true to their values and their purpose. We empower people to align with their deepest truth.
Our new transformational leadership program, Crush Your Career: Communication Bootcamp, was designed for professionals who are ready to show up more authentically at work. They no longer want to slap on a positive attitude and fake it – they’re ready for a change. This exciting new small-group program builds transformational leadership skills that empower people to grow authentically in their careers without putting on a mask.
Complimentary Breakthrough Consultation
In-person or online breakthrough coaching empowers you to embrace your truth more authentically. This practice can transform your relationships and help you show up more powerfully in your career. To learn more, contact me for a complimentary online Engaging Breakthrough consultation.
In this 30-60 minute online breakthrough coaching session, I’ll help you get clear on where you want to be. I’ll give you my best professional recommendations to help you take your first steps toward your success breakthrough.
|Written by Craig Tennant
Founder, Engaging Breakthroughs
Transformation Architect and Breakthrough Coach
At Engaging Breakthroughs, Craig Tennant delivers