Positivity has become fashionable. And as somebody who’s never taken to the EMO culture, I’m glad. But as with everything else, there’s a healthy and unhealthy approach to positivity. And as positivity focused as I am, I can also be annoyed by some of the mantras circulating on social media and among friends.
Positivity is harmful when you take it too literally. When you block out the hurt and sadness that comes with living by trying to shake it off with mantras like “Oh well, I’m grateful to have the gift of life”, or something equally Pollyanna like, you’re not really dealing with the negative things that come your way and that’s not healthy.
Imagine a dinner plate. Initially it’s clean. Then you eat fish, the next day you have pork, the next day lentils and then chicken and so on. And you don’t clean the plate between meals other than sprinkling some water on it. Though the plate is physically okay to eat from, the residue from the earlier meals will be there and eventually as you eat from the plate and never wash it, all sort of disgusting organisms might start building their own dinner plate colony.
By always smiling and reciting positive mantras, your mind will end up as grimy as that dinner plate. And eventually the positivity will turn on you and you might have a mental breakdown which it might take both time and professional help to recover from.
Let’s go back to the dinner plate. Say now that you do clean it after every meal. You’ve taken time to clear any traces of the previous meal away and the plate is as good as new. That is also how you should treat your mind. It won’t be a guarantee against long term depression, but by going through your negative experiences and dealing with them in a way that works for you, will be helpful in keeping a good mental hygiene. Everything will probably be ok and improve tomorrow, but get the hurt out so that you start off with a clean slate.
And what about when it won’t be ok? How do you use positivity towards someone who is terminally ill in respectful manner that’s not gonna infuriate them? I’m no psychologist, but I’ve experienced enough terminal illness with close family members that I have an idea. It’s not something that will be deemed positive in the traditional sense.. But if you think that being there by a terminally ill loved one who more than anything wants you by their side isn’t a good thing, though sad, then isn’t that a form of positivity? And as what to say to them, stay away from “It’ll be fine”; unless they believe in an afterlife that you know they’re keen on getting too. , I think the safest thing is to say “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere and I’m letting you know. It’s up to you what you wanna do with that information.”
Positivity isn’t just about good visible results and happy endings. Positivity is about love, self-belief, living in the now, being comfortable with yourself and your emotions, being a good friend and those moments and experiences that keep you moving forward. It is also about cleaning out the old and making space for the new.
Positivity is a powerful and constructive tool that can make life more bearable. But be mindful, which is another annoyingly trendy word, of how you manifest it. There’s nothing wrong with mantras. But for your own sake, it’s better to use mantras that you can live by and stand for. But I think mantras are very personal and in my experience it’s better to project positivity onto someone else by actions rather than just than mantras.