In theory, positive thinking ought to be a good thing – by its very definition if you do it well, it’s got to be good. All too easily, it becomes a way to explain the people who aren’t winning, rather than looking at wider factors (poverty, access to resources, education, opportunity, disability, race, sheer bad luck and all other such things of that ilk). It can be a way of denying what’s going on.
I can track a process, where I fall into dark and destructive thinking. And then, as part of that process I notice what I’m doing, and I recognise that I’m on a real downer, pessimistic, defeatist, and the like. I can readily latch onto this as an explanation for why everything’s going awry. I am causing it to go awry (like attracts like, right?). The problem is that I’m not grateful enough, blind to the good stuff, looking the wrong way, focused on the wrong things.
And so my own lack of positivity becomes a stick to beat myself with. Because underneath it all is a self-destructive inclination that will use any weapon it can get its grubby hands on. And I can turn anything into that sort of weapon. I suppose that if your urge is to find a means to push away, or put down the inconvenient and the uncomfortable, then pointing at the lack of positivity is a comfortable solution, and so there can be a quiet complicity between those who wish to explain the damned and those who do not know how to do other than damn themselves.
I can only be genuinely positive if I start from where I am, in a state of honesty about how I feel and what I’ve got. From that honesty I can recognise the good bits, without getting mired in bitterness, resentment, or being too down to see anything good. When I recognise where I am, I have more scope to be hopeful about the room for productive change, and see the potential for good bits. I don’t convince myself that all will be well and glorious, but I can get a sane balance between the hope and the anxiety, and I can be passably functional.
If I try to make myself be positive about things where I don’t genuinely feel it, the results are generally messy. Fake positivity brings on the bitterness, the self-loathing, and a keen sense of futility. The attempt to seem, or to foster a sense of positivity can breed in me the most toxic reactions. ‘Fun’ can start to sound like a threat.
A measured, realistic kind of positivity makes it possible to appreciate the good bits, without going mad. As with most things, its about balance. For me its also about what’s socially acceptable, and it’s about putting down the weapons I’ve been using to hit myself with, and recognising that maybe I don’t have to keep beating myself up for not being cheerful and carefree enough.