A licence to live?

how-to-live

Recently, a couple of my close friends—and a new friend—have been having a particularly rough ride. Career choice troubles, romantic break down, family illnesses… And I’ve taken the role of consoler & kind ear, as we all do for friends in need.

I’ve also had a difficult year in many ways. And so, I’ve been pondering the fact that we—all of us—need a little help to live.

Where does help come from?

Some of us might get help in living without even having to ask. Some of us seek it out from trusted friends, mentors and loved ones. Yet, many of us may not even, for whatever reason, be aware that we need this help, that we can ask for it. Some of us are too ashamed to admit to needing help.

Most of us, in the western world, live outside of a religious system to help us understand our traumas. Therapy still has a stigma attached to it. We don’t always want to readily admit to reading so-called ‘self-help’ books. Even receiving life coaching, or journal writing, might be embarrassing for some to admit. I wonder why this is.

I wonder why, though in both the UK and US you need a licence to drive a motor vehicle, we are left unlicensed in life. No wonder we experience so many life ‘crashes’—pile-ups, even! We are—each of us—behind the wheel of a life we may or may not have been sufficiently instructed to operate (and usually not.)

What I suppose I’m saying is:

It’s okay to look into finally getting your proverbial licence.
It’s okay if you haven’t ‘got this’ just yet.
It’s okay to live in the world your questions create.

And it’s okay to ask for help, because we’re all on the same road.

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On Wild Optimism, or the #1 Rule to Getting Everything You Want

how-to-be-optimistic

I’ve suffered my fair share of angst.

When I was thirteen I wrote, “I hate everything” on my bedroom wall, in pencil. Yes, pencil. I was so apathetic, even my acts of delinquency were half-hearted.

There was a time when I truly, genuinely, truthfully thought that nothing good would ever happen to me.

Over time, my mind has changed substantially (the other day I actually said to a friend, in all seriousness, “enthusiasm is my religion.” It’s a wonder I have any friends.)

Over time, I began to expect that good things might actually happen. I began to act like good things might happen. And – lo and behold! – they did.

No, I’m not an advocate of The Secret (sorry, Rhonda.) I was merely cultivating optimism; wild optimism. Unrestrained enthusiasm. Wanton chance-taking. Disproportionate dedication.

I began to commit to possibility.

Of course, these good things weren’t always easy, or obvious, or how I expected them to be, but they were very definitely happening. I was just going for it, and in just going for it, I gave things – great things – the opportunity to occur.

Little by little, I began to think that wild optimism was the best chance I had at a life I enjoyed, that was purposeful, & that had meaning; wild optimism was the only way of cajoling myself into going for what I wanted, and of promising myself I’d be okay when things didn’t work out.

What is wild optimism?

Wild optimism is letting yourself believe in all those things you secretly want; and the things you don’t dare want because they’re simply too whimsical to admit to. It’s throwing your hat in the ring. Taking a punt. Placing your bets (and all those other clichés.)

It means you have to participate.

Martin Luther King did not become a trailblazer in the African-American Civil Rights Movement because he thought, what’s the point? Marie Curie didn’t become the first woman to win a Nobel prize because she said to herself, don’t get too big for your boots now, Marie. Mahatma Gandhi didn’t lead India to independence by thinking, meh. No. They took positive action; they were wild optimists. And optimism is empowerment. They came, they conquered.

Reality Check?

Wild optimism is not expecting that nothing bad will ever happen (contrary to a popularly held belief, ‘optimist’ is not a synonym of ‘stupid.’) It is not about devaluing the negative. We all know Marie Curie could have done with a healthy dose of caution. Yet, wild optimism is realising that, by the law of averages alone, eventually you’ll catch a break, and that expecting the best is just as valid as expecting the worst, neither is a more accurate version of “reality.”

We think of a “reality check” as a dose of cynicism; sometimes it can be a dose of wild optimism. [Tweet it!]

Of course, wild optimism is not a magic wand; the difficult stuff still happens. It continues to for me, and I imagine it will do for you, too. Yet, short of pencilling hate memos on our walls, it might be the best chance any of us have got.

You don’t get anything if you don’t participate, but there’s a chance – even if it’s a teeny tiny one – that you’ll get everything if you do.

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Negativity & Why it Matters

negativity-why-it-matters

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.
[Tweet 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…

…it all matters.