I had a blog ready to go for today. Instead, I have a request. In the minute or two it would have taken to read a blog, perhaps those couple of minutes would be better served to say a prayer for Ukraine and its people. We never know when a prayer just might change the world.
Toxic positivity – kind of sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? During the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve cited research and empirical evidence on the benefits of positivity, optimism, happiness. I’ve also offered proven exercises and strategies that promote positivity and well being. I totally stand by those ‘well being’ posts. However, I would also like to provide a caveat.
The caveat is about slipping into ‘Toxic Positivity’ as described in the book by Whitney Goodman. Dr. Chris Peterson one of the founders of Positive Psychology, before his untimely passing, cautioned about indulging in ‘promiscuous positivity.’ What is meant by those two terms? The answer has to do with our humanity.
Here's the thing. As the Happiness Movement began earlier in the 21st century and evolved, there has been greater awareness and focus on happiness and being more positive. As I noted above, scientific research and empirical evidence continues to validate and confirm the benefits on our overall health and well being. You know it is often said that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. You may also know that sometimes those good things can be taken to extremes.
Simply said, we must not forget that we are all human. Humans experience a wide variety of circumstances both good and bad. Humans experience a wide range of emotions and feelings both positive and negative. As beneficial as it is to focus on the positive, it can be detrimental to our well being to deny or suppress those negative feelings. When bad things happen we have the right to feel sad, angry, disappointed, etc. In fact it is best to acknowledge and allow ourselves those feelings. The idea, of course, is not to go over board on the negative side. In fact, the point is not to over stay our welcome in either positivity or negativity. You may have encountered the person who seems to be happy all the time or always pointing out the positive in a difficult situation. The truth is that they are not being real. As a Harvard Professor of Psychology once said that those who do not appear to experience the gamut of human emotions may be psychopathic or dead.
The bottom line is we are all better when we do aspire to become more positive and happier. We need to give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling while being respectful to others in the process. There are many strategies available to cope with and minimize that downward spiral. One I like to use involves a timer. When feeling angry, frustrated,upset, etc., set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, your preference. That is the time in which you can wallow, complain, vent. When the timer goes off, your BMW (B**ch, Moan, Whine) time is up. The rest of the day should go much better.
There’s nothing like a healthy dose of levity to brighten any day. Here are 4 true Valentine’s Day stories (thanks to RD) that will put a smile on your face.
“I met my husband while I was working in a science library. He came in every week to read the latest journals and eventually decided to take out the librarian instead of the books. After a year and a half of dating, he showed up at the library and started rummaging through my desk. I asked what he was looking for, but he didn’t answer. Finally he unearthed one of the rubber stamps I used to identify reference books. ‘Since I couldn’t find the right engagement ring,’ he said, ‘this will have to do,’ and he firmly stamped my hand. Across my knuckles, in capital letters, it read NOT FOR CIRCULATION.”
“The lingerie store where my aunt works was crowded with shoppers selecting Valentine’s Day gifts for their wives. A young businessman came to the register with a lacy black negligee. My aunt noticed that the next customer, an elderly farmer, was holding a long flannel nightgown and kept glancing at the younger man’s sexier choice. When it was his turn, the farmer placed the nightgown on the counter. ‘Would you have anything in black flannel?’ he asked.”
“About a year had passed since my amicable divorce, and I decided it was time to start dating again. Unsure how to begin, I thought I’d scan the personals column of my local newspaper. I came across three men who seemed like they’d be promising candidates. A couple of days later, I was checking my answering machine and discovered a message from my ex-husband. ‘I was over visiting the kids yesterday,’ he said. ‘While I was there I happened to notice you had circled some ads in the paper. Don’t bother calling the guy in the second column. I can tell you right now it won’t work out. That guy is me.’”
“Every Valentine’s Day our campus newspaper has a section for student messages. Last year my roommate surprised his girlfriend with roses and dinner at a fancy restaurant. When they returned from their date, she leafed through the paper to see if he had written a note to her. Near the bottom of one page she found: ‘Bonnie, what are you looking here for? Aren’t dinner and flowers enough? Love, Scott.’”
Would you say you are an optimist or pessimist? Did you know that optimism or pessimism is not a personality trait? According to Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology, optimism and pessimism are habits of thinking; how we perceive our circumstances and our futures. Speaking from his experience as a self-proclaimed curmudgeon and his research, he explains that optimism can be learned. In fact, in his book Learned Optimism, he offers several strategies for how to become more optimistic.
Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.
How can we become more positive and optimistic. For one thing, we should not believe everything we think. For another thing, we can challenge our negative thoughts. Is what I am thinking true? Is it really true? What is another way to look at this?
Having said that, I suggest a simple yet remarkably effective strategy. Research has shown that the 3 good things exercise has led to people becoming more positive, sleeping better, increasing happiness and well being, improved health, providing relief from depression, and having a more optimistic outlook over all.
Spend a few minutes each night right before you go to bed to recall and write down three good things that happened today. These things can be anything that went well, both big (like you had a major work out) or small (like someone was kind to you). It is important to write down why that good thing happened to you and specifically you. Do this faithfully for two weeks, and you will discover a shift in the way you go through your day and the things that you choose to notice and amplify in the future.
I can tell you, having taught this exercise to both adults and children several times, the feed back is amazing. Children have reported feeling happier and more relaxed. Some adults have told me this exercised changed their entire family dynamic. One Mom of an ADHD youngster said that her son loves this exercise. In fact, he insisted the entire family do it together every night at dinner. Give it a try.