Positivity and negativity make life worth living.
Each serves a useful purpose. Duality is a theme that’s consistent in pretty much every area of life. You have the light and the darkness, happiness and sadness, love and heartbreak. Without the opposing force, neither end of the spectrum has value.
Most people use positivity and negativity in a way that doesn’t make life better. Sometimes, you’re in a position where your circumstances and your emotions are in line.
But, often, the answer lies in using the proper emotion when you don’t feel like it. Sometimes you have to strike a delicate dance between the two and use just enough, but not too much, of positivity and negativity to make the right move.
Let’s break down the most useful way to use each emotion.
I have an interesting relationship with positivity. On the one hand, a lot of people describe me as a positive guy, which I am, to a degree. But if you take a look at my work, you’ll see a lot of darkness in it, too.
See, positivity is a useful force when it makes sense to be positive. It makes sense to be positive when you’re moving your life in the right direction. Sometimes It makes sense to be positive when your back is against the wall. In general, you want to have a positive disposition.
You don’t want to be a miserable person. You want to be positive in the sense that you don’t unload the problems in your life onto people.
At the same time, you want to learn how to be objective about yourself, your life, and whether or not positive feelings are warranted based on all the above. Let me explain deeper.
Toxic positivity is this idea that you’re supposed to be this upbeat, cheery, motivational unicorn twenty-four-seven regardless of what’s going on in your life. This is why some forms of self-help turn people off.
You can’t overcome certain situations in your life by throwing on a smile, telling yourself everything is going to be okay, and reading 67 affirmations each morning. Positive thinking is great, but it’s not enough on its own.
Toxic positivity is inauthentic. Have you ever been around a type of person who was unnaturally upbeat? It seems fake because no one’s life is that great all of the time.
In fact, most people who display an overly positive image, especially online, are doing it to both mask their issues from themselves and mask them from the world. Putting on a fake persona without ever battling your inner demons will leave you an empty shell, even if the shell is pretty, shiny, and looks great on the outside.
The biggest mistake people make with positivity is trying to use it as a substitute for making tangible changes that would actually make them happy. As harsh as it sounds, ‘love yourself no matter what,’ doesn’t make sense if you have reasons not to love yourself.
Often, if you’re unhappy, there are clear and obvious reasons why that need to be dealt with to change your emotions and self-perception in a real way. Our society has an obsession with positive emotions. Our preoccupation with feeling happy keeps us from being happy.
Instead of trying to be positive, focus on being optimistic.
Optimism, unlike toxic positivity, doesn’t require lying to yourself about the way things are right now. But it does give you hope about building a better future. You can be upset with certain faces of your life without letting them make you a miserable person.
I used to be dead broke and negative. I worked at a job I hated, was out of shape, and drank all the time. Fast forward a few months. I was still broke, but I was beaming with energy because I was making positive steps toward a better life.
You don’t have to change much in your life to be positive. Just get momentum and direction — that ‘things are looking up’ mentality. Get that mentality by being optimistic about the future and changing things in the present.
You can work a job you hate, but once you start building your escape plan, you’ll feel positive. You can be out of shape, but once you’ve been in the gym a few weeks you feel like a brand new person even if your body hasn’t changed much.
It takes small actions that create a positive signal to your brain to change the way you think. Stack up these pieces of evidence that life is getting better, and you feel better.
Some people do live in truly horrendous circumstances or have mental health issues that are above my pay grade to talk about.
I remember watching a video with Jordan Peterson, a renowned psychologist turned self-help guru of sorts, and he admitted that some of his patients were beyond the pale. Their situations were so bad that he focused on nothing else but keeping them alive.
Most of us aren’t in that bad a spot, which is important to remember. I often talk about how people use contentment and gratitude as a mask to avoid changing. But, it is important to be content and grateful for what you have.
There’s a theory that people in the West suffer from abundance. Life, comparatively, is so easy for us that we invent problems. I’m reminded of a video I watched where starving third world people read quotes of people’s ‘first world problems.’
Gotta have some perspective. Yes, there are still major problems in the first world. There are major problems in everyone’s life regardless of wealth. How you frame those problems is important.
Your baseline happiness is probably too high. You woke up today. Hopefully, so did everyone you love. There will be times when that isn’t true and you will be distraught, horrified, and dealt a nasty blow from life. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when these things will happen to you.
If you’re not in any of those situations right now, consider yourself happy enough.
I have an even more interesting relationship with negativity. I rely much more on negative emotions than positive ones as a source of motivation. Unlike other gurus, I’m not going to say my philosophy is right or healthy. I can only teach what I’ve learned through experience and this process works for me.
You have to strike a delicate balance with negativity. Obviously, too much of it just makes you miserable. But appropriately applied doses of skepticism, pessimism, and self-criticism can make a world of difference.
We all have darkness to us. Often, we try to run from it, bury it, or just totally become negative and define ourselves by it. Instead, it’s better to integrate it. Stop trying to fight your nature and instead use it to your advantage.
When your great great great great grandfather was roaming around in the jungle, it made sense for him to be pessimistic when he heard a rustle in the bushes. Better to be pessimistic and run just in case it’s something coming to eat him.
A lot of your negative social mechanisms are there for you to survive, too. If you ‘got rejected’ back then you wouldn’t just lose a bit of social status, you’d be left for dead or maybe your tribe members would kill you.
Fear is useful, too. Fear exists to keep you out of harm’s way. Pain keeps you from making costly mistakes — you never touch a hot stove for a second time. But too many people let their negative emotions and fear rule their lives.
They’re the classic ‘woe is me’ types who’d rather be totally miserable than changing anything about their lives. Strangely, misery is easier to deal with because it gives you certainty.
If you give up on a better life, at least you stop wondering about it. People become tiny little miserable shells in the hopes the world won’t notice them enough to trample on them even more than they do themselves. It’s a twisted, yet commonly used, method of self-preservation.
We all exhibit useless negativity to different degrees as a coping mechanism. I can’t tell you what to do other than to ask yourself whether your negative emotions serve a useful purpose or not.
I have a simple philosophy. If I’m experiencing negative emotions, I try to find the reason for it and be as objective as possible. Sometimes I can fix it. Sometimes I can’t and have to find a way to deal with it. But I try to avoid having this general malaise that does nothing but keeps me in a general malaise.
This is the process where you’re honest with yourself about whether or not you should be happy. Stop expecting or feeling entitled to positive emotions.
Like I said before, some people have mental health issues that are above my pay grade and are excluded from this conversation, but for everyone else, it’s time to keep it real.
It’s not some mystery. You know what you’re unhappy. There are things you know you’re supposed to be doing and you aren’t doing them. There are things you know you’re supposed to be doing them but continue to keep doing them.
The $64,000 question: how do you stop doing the things you know you’re not supposed to do and start doing the things you know you’re supposed to do?
In short, you have to get pissed off about it enough that you’ll change. Until that happens, nothing changes. Frustration is valuable too. Dial it up a few notches more than usual.
Don’t just let little bits of negativity chip away at your soul a bit each day. Think about how your entire life will turn out if you continue to let this happen. Think about it until it horrifies and disgusts you.
Then and only then do you have a fighting chance.
Just like I mentioned having a default level of happiness because you’re not totally distraught, it’s important to always have a default level of doubt, skepticism, and healthy fear to keep you grounded.
I describe this state as understanding the dark elements of the way the world works, human nature, and life’s inherent unfairness without becoming bitter about any of it.
It is what it is.
People will screw you over, so trust but verify. Society creates a bunch of traps and pitfalls for the average person. Accept that and try as best you can to dodge them instead of wishing life were fair because it never will be.
Be optimistic, but don’t be naive like people who think posting a Lamborghini on their wall will make them rich. Understand that, in the long run, you’ll have success if you work hard and work on the right things, but know that the ball won’t bounce your way sometimes for no apparent reason.
Be confident, but not overly arrogant. Get smarter, but understand the extent of your own ignorance. Take risks, but be mindful of the downside.
The wisdom has been the same for generations: the yin and yang.
You can’t destroy each force. Focus on getting on the right side of each force.
Sometimes you need to push yourself when you’re slacking. Sometimes you need to be easy on yourself so you don’t crumble.
I can’t tell you exactly how and when you use each force. But I can tell you that you’re intuition knows what to do.
It’s as simple as doing your best every day, to be honest with yourself about which remedy is necessary.