A reader recently said I was anti-positivity.
To be clear, I don’t think she meant it as a critique, merely an observation. She was referencing my reaction to her previous comment. Admittedly, it was a rather negative reaction.
And to be fair to her, I had also just published a post called “There are no silver linings in pandemics.”
Still, her words stung a little. Because I tend to think of myself as simply being a hard-nosed realist more than a negative person.
But honestly, maybe she’s onto something.
A little sulk can be good
First of all, I’m a firm believer in a good wallow when things suck. I mean, not a prolonged one. You can’t soak in a bath of self-pity forever. You get emotionally prune-y.
But I think it’s good for the soul to accept when things are awful, letting it wash over you and letting yourself feel utterly sad about it.
I’m not the only one. My mom recently read me part of a Caroline Hax post, wherein Hax said that trying to stay too positive during this kind of crisis can mean failing to acknowledge a very real part of you that’s scared and sad and hurting.
Cognitive dissonance ain’t good for nobody, folks.
The problem with silver linings
Positive people would probably say that they accept that things are bad, then try to find the small bits of good still left. Or try to make positive what they do have control over.
Whereas me? Not so much.
I’m generally anti-silver lining. Maybe that’s because thanks to deep denial, I came up with multiple silver linings after my severe illness. And they were utter BS.
It was not, in fact, worth the whole thing just to get a second chance to experience my first steps. It was not worth it just to appreciate good health or the ability to move my body parts on my own.
Just remembering that I tried to convince people (including myself) of that makes me queasy and angry.
So no, not a big silver linings fan.
Though in my defense, my problem is more specifically with third-party silver linings. That is, people finding the good in someone else’s seemingly miserable situation. Like the folks who were saying that at least this economic crisis will make people practice frugality.
Look, if you want to find positivity in your own life, have at it. But don’t tell someone else what the silver linings are in theirs. You don’t get to decide what’s good or positive for others.
So there’s all that. And yeah, as mentioned before, I believe in a good — if limited-time — wallow when things are rough. I think it’s cathartic.
But even after that, I don’t think we should have to find positive things in crappy situations — though again, that’s not to say we should wallow.
Instead I think that, yes, we should focus on what we can actually control and optimize what we can actually do: seeing friends virtually when we can’t see them in person, catching Mom up on a bunch of good TV shows while she’s here with me, etc.
But I don’t think we need to pretend that these things as good as regular life. I feel like many positive people would try to focus solely on the good that’s left and avoid comparing it to normal.
Because this sucks
And I have no desire to play Pollyanna’s glad game.
I don’t want to be happy about the money saved from not going out. I want to be able to go out (without endangering people).
I don’t want to think about how this is bringing families closer together. Because proximity is causing plenty of problems, including an uptick in calls to divorce attorneys and, far worse, a notable increase in domestic violence.
And I don’t want to focus on how this situation is bringing out people’s generosity. Because that just reminds me how many more people are in dire financial need.
And I do want to be upset that I’m stress-eating and gaining weight because of it. I don’t think even a positive person could find a good spin on that.
A hard look at a hard reality
So how, after saying all that, can I claim that I’m not anti-positivity? Well, because I don’t think I ignore the good in life. I do acknowledge it. It’s just that I don’t meet those positives without scrutiny.
To go back to an earlier example, it’s wonderful that people are contributing more to charities. Admittedly, that does give me a little more faith in humanity. But the fact is that most of us could afford to be more generous on a regular basis — myself, very much included.
Positive people would probably say that maybe this will make people realize that. But I suspect folks will go back to their normal, non-giving or minimally giving ways once the worst of this is over.
Again, I think I’m just being realistic, but it could definitely come off as negativity or pessimism.
The fact is, I’m not a fan of people as a whole. Individuals, sure. Like my readers, you guys are awesome. Mom is awesome. My friends are awesome.
But humanity as a whole? Not impressed.
Unlike me, some people always try to find the good in the world/people. And sure, I can acknowledge that some good exists. But if I tried to see only the good, I’d quickly lose my damn mind. Because I’m too acutely aware of just how much bad is in the world.
So I look at the good stuff, and yes, I try to appreciate it. But generally I expect the worst out of people. Which arguably does make me appreciate all the more when good things do happen. But that’s a matter of some debate, I suppose.
By expecting the worst — especially in a bad situation like this — I’m prepared for the bad rather than being blindsided by it. Which is what I think would happen if I tried to focus more on the positive things.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still routinely shocked and horrified by new levels of awfulness that I didn’t previously contemplate. But just think how much worse my shock and horror would be if I looked only for the good!
The good amid the bad
And besides, expecting things to go badly means that I’m often pleasantly surprised when something good happens.
Steeling myself for the worst lets me truly appreciate when things go well. It’s such a shock that it really resonates, and I get all mushy/gooey about it. At least for a bit. Until the next horrible thing comes along.
I will readily admit that this world has some amazing, beautiful things and people. It’s also got a ton of awful, awful crap. If I tried to look for the positive in some of the latter, I’d fail miserably. And probably get quite depressed in the process.
Frankly, I’d rather prepare myself for the worst/have a negative outlook on humanity, and just try to take in and appreciate the good as it comes. To me that’s better than constantly looking for the good and driving myself crazy with the deluge of bad stuff in this world.
So maybe positive people are just made of stronger stuff than I am. Because I guess when you get down to it, negativity is my coping mechanism.
Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?