It’s January and my timeline is packed with more self-help advice than anti-oxidants in this detox tea I’m trying to endure right now, and everyone is saying how to beat the January Blues with *POSITIVITY* (and detox teas, funnily enough). I get it – we’re all trying to cling onto whatever humanity, energy, and life that we’ve managed to drag through the battlefield of 2016 and into this new year. Right now, in this shitty weather with Tube and rail strikes aplenty we will take anything to try put a happier spin on our already soulless existences. We’re coping – only just (and largely due to Ed Sheeran’s latest singles – thanks hun) – but if I’m really really honest with you, I’m so over trying to ignore the fact I feel like shit just because the whole world is telling me to be ~positive!~
Mindfulness, the Law of Attraction, The Secret, PMA’s – basically any movement rooted in positivity – it has all been around for some time now, rising from self-helps method for spiritualists to a serious lifestyle trend and business for all. Some of the ideas that they promote have actually helped massively with reframing my state of mind and becoming more of an optimist than a cynic and pessimist. But sometimes the positivity patrol gets a bit much for me. With all of the best intentions, these movements are rooted in the idea that the key to greater happiness is happiness, and by suppressing your negative emotions whilst expressing your happy ones, you’ll have it nailed. It’s all about thinking of the positives in a shit situation.
Exactly. But positivity alone will not stop Brexit. Positivity will not make Donald Trump even less of a prick than he already is. Positivity will not make my period pains go away and I’m pretty sure it won’t deliver me the burger that I am craving oh-so-badly right now. So I’m here to call bullshit on it a little bit and say that sometimes, when the time is right, embracing negativity is so much better.
Now I’m I’m actually usually a very naturally positive person – and if you’ve met me IRL you’ll know that. It’s not in a hippy-dippy kind of way, but in a friendly, confident, always cheery kind of way. In fact, in every work appraisal or school report I’ve ever had that has been the overriding factor. “Distracts others but always an enthusiastic and happy, positive person to be around!” so it’s not as if I’m a negative, positivity-leeching cynic here to shit all over your mindfulness quotes.
Of course I get the impact positive thinking can have: I understand the notion of trying to find that looming threatening miserable dark grey cloud’s silver lining, I really do, but the truth is sometimes things are just shit. And that’s okay. Being told to think of the positive side when you’re feeling so negative is just patronising. It’s the same irritating sentiment you get when some stranger at the street tells you to “cheer up, it might never happen!” (although without the sexist element you get when it’s a builder hollering it at you which more often than not it is.) It’s my prerogative to not walk around with a perma-smile fixed to my face like a lady that’s had a little too much surgery just as it’s my prerogative to let myself feel shit when I feel shit.
On Sunday I had one of these really shitty days. I was tired and stressed and loads of things built up through the day and all it took was one negative comment on my latest YouTube video – the kind of thing that usually wouldn’t even slightly touch me – and it sent my mood in a downward spiral where I couldn’t get out. And just like that I was in tears, feeling totally numb, asking my boyfriend to drive me all the way home in miserable Sunday traffic across London because I simply could not bring myself to move my body and get out of the car on to the tube. All I wanted was to crawl into bed, watch some Netflix, order a takeaway, go to sleep and hit refresh. Which is exactly what I did. There was not a positive molecule in my body. I radiated negativity. I wallowed in it. And you know what, it was great (in a weird kind of way). It was exactly what I needed. Having a bit of a cry was cathartic and I felt a million times better for it than I would have had I spend hours pretending I was feeling happy just for the sake of positivity. (Can you hear that tiny violin playing in the background?!)
And that’s my problem with positivity. Pretending that you feel positive when you don’t is a display of fake emotions – and I’ve learnt last year the importance in not faking things! There’s faking it until you make it, then there’s faking it until you’re rocking back and forth in a corner screaming at your colleagues I SWEAR I AM OK GUYS I AM SO HAPPY RN I SWEAR!!!
There’s this pressure to remain positive all of the time, and that can lead to some serious mental gymnastics because when you do feel sad or angry, you then feel really really guilty about having these negative emotions. And that, in my opinion, is so much worse. You overthink everything: “I should be happy, I have a roof over my head and food to eat and friends and family and….” you list list list all of the reasons why you should be positive. But sometimes you still aren’t. So you feel bad and ungrateful and guilty that these things aren’t making you happy. It’s neurotic! Plus it’s exhausting. And I have a very expressive face so hiding my emotions is difficult.
Lately this whole positivity movement has become a bit more of a social status thing – the ability to be able to instantly override ones negative emotions with positivity is like the overachievers ultimate trophy, because positivity = happiness and happiness = winning at life. Consider it the modern day social trump card: it outranks professional and schooling achievements, relationships, friendships and love because who cares about any of that so long as someone is a shining beacon of happiness and positivity? (Or at least says that they are)
Part of me can’t help wonder if this phenomenon has been somewhat fuelled by social media (sorry sorry I’m moaning about social media again). We’re seeing all of the joyous moments and life highlights of our peers on social media and it raises the bar for what we should be experiencing and feeling. I used to share every feeling I had on Facebook when I first got it ten years ago (shoutout to anyone who wrote a status like “Sophie Milner is feeling rubbish” “Sophie Milner is sooooooooo annoooooyed right now”) whereas now I only share my biggest and most exciting achievements these days. Now that has to have some form of impact, right?
I’ll finish with this: if trying to feel happy when you’re not feels counterproductive, don’t force it. If you’re having a really bad day, don’t beat yourself up for feeling down about it and let yourself get it out of your system. If it starts to happen too often, then talk to someone about it. But don’t ever lose sight of how lucky you are to be here too.
We are human after all. We have emotions. We’re not positivity robots. And in my opinion, you need the lows to really feel the highs.