In my last post I talked about why positivity matters. I’ll be writing about positivity a lot on this blog – because I find it a rich & enchanting topic.
Yet today I want to clarify something: just because I think positivity matters, it doesn’t mean I think negativity doesn’t matter.
For a long time it has been obvious to me that, whilst accentuating the positive is an important and fulfilling dimension of my life – it is not the only dimension of my life. For me, it has been obvious that sorrow and tough times are a given, and something to be experienced fully – not quashed.
Yet, when the validity of negativity isn’t obvious, positivity can become something tormenting and tyrannical.
[Just read Barbara Ehrenreich if you don’t believe me!]
For this reason, in the field of positive psychology, there is currently a ‘second wave’ occurring; one which stresses that “positive” does not necessarily = “good,” just as “negative” does not = “bad.” Because, sometimes, this comes across as the underlying assumption of the field.
In my case at least, this could not be further from the truth. So I really wanted to address this here on the blog, as a kind of caveat to the rest of my wild optimism.
Here is a handy list of some of the ways I conceive of negativity, that I hope will be helpful. Maybe most of it is obvious to you, and I’m really glad if so – but, just in case…
1) Don’t go into battle with yourself: you’ll lose.
If you start to think of ANY of your emotions as good/bad, worthy/not worthy you’re going into a battle you can never win and, in my mind at least, your positivity will only ever be a superficial cover up. Which brings me to…
2) Don’t fake it.
Though I value happiness highly, I wouldn’t dream of suppressing my equally genuine feelings of sadness and grief and even desperation when they are necessary responses, because I’m not in the market for faking anything.
It is more important to me to practice integrity and explore all the corners of my reality, than to pretend positivity. You’ve probably heard the maxim, ‘fake it til you make it.’ Confidence, sure, I think faking it helps us play-act our way into it. Happiness? There is no play-acting with happiness, and to do so will probably make you feel worse.
3) All experience is valid.
Negativity matters because all of our experience is equally valid – not just the sunny parts. The parts we want to show off on Instagram or Facebook. The parts we parade around because we’re proud of them.
If we value positivity to the point that we devalue our negativity, we make ourselves more miserable by denying a very ordinary part of the human experience. We enter a place of berating ourselves over ever feeling bad; and ultimately make ourselves feel worse (what madness!) Stop that cycle by remembering: it all matters.
4) You can’t go around it; you have to go through it.
Did you ever read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as a child? “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it!” Well, negativity is just like that.
Or, think of it as a documentary film you’re watching: you’re never going to understand it if you don’t sit through the whole thing. If you switch it off and go and do something else, it’s still there: undiscovered, awaiting you, and will be forever.
We don’t ease sadness by ignoring it; we ease it by addressing it.
Finding its root cause. Going through it, and coming out the other side.
5) All emotion is part of you; none of it defines you.
If you, like me, value happiness and positivity, then there is only one thing you need to remember when diving into the darker shades of yourself: don’t let it define you, i.e. you are not a “negative person,” nor are you a “positive person.” You are simply a person, who experiences emotions, and you choose how you value those emotions.
So, please, if you were looking for permission…
Feel sad. Feel angry. Feel hurt. Feel heartbroken. Feel vulnerable. Feel anxious. Feel scared. Feel sorry for yourself. Feel slighted. Feel jealous. Feel the injustice.
Feel it all. Viscerally. Listen to it. Inquire into it. Honour it. Let it test you. Use it as fuel for change. Only then do we witness our whole potential; only then do we explore the full little solar system of the self; because the sun, the moon, the dark, the light, the sorrow, the joy…