In Judith Timson’s review of Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich for the Globe and Mail, she describes the book as a slamming of persistent promotion of positive thinking. I can’t comment on the accuracy of this review, however, it began a frenzy of thoughts on what it means to be a positivity promoter and how that fits in with a culture of complaining.
There appears to be a movement of positive psychology, and Lifepositive.com, Successconsciousness.com and Positivethoughts.com are a few of the top websites boasting a better life if you see everything in a positive light. But I’m a skeptic. Of course life can appear better when you live in the illusion that life is better, but the events are the same and seeing life through rose-tinted glasses cannot simply be a denial of reality. Sometimes life sucks. You spill coffee on your favorite shirt, your car doesn’t start, you get splashed by a truck while waiting for the bus and you end up late for your final exam. Crappy things happen every day and your car not starting isn’t the worst thing that may have happened to someone that morning.
Ever been in a bad mood and tried to have a conversation with an overly chipper individual? It’s the biggest turnoff. Maybe you’re tired and haven’t gotten your cup of coffee, or maybe life’s been dishing you turd pellets instead of lemons for a while. Either way, you’re a few cups short of your pitcher of lemonade and then this person tells you to “just cheer up already.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the equivalent of pushing every button I got and turning on the sarcastic pessimistic superdrive.
This is a warning to all positive promoters; thinking optimistically is a great tool for getting through daily life, but don’t shove your pixie dust and rose petals down the throats of others. They won’t look the same coming up the other way.
If I’m sounding a bit like Oscar the Grouch or perhaps Scrooge, please know that I do believe that although you can’t always control the life you’re given, you can control your reaction to it. However, I don’t need the silver lining of my storm cloud, or for you to point out the patch of greener grass on the other side.
Being overtly positive all the time won’t make you any new friends. Complaining is the way we start a conversation. The baby screaming on the flight, the late bus or the ever-changing Winnipeg weather patterns are opportunities to start up a conversation. Optimism is far more likely to be met with hostility. Positive promoting is isolating. There’s something lovable and relatable about a brooding pessimist. Look at some of our favorite TV characters: Dr. Gregory House (House), Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl), Dwight Schrute (The Office) or Steven Hyde (That 70’s Show).
Why do we get stuck in these pits of pessimism? Simply put, we’re all attention seeking, compliment-fishing, reality TV wannabes. But let me explain. We are so used to this lifestyle of complaining, it’s the way we strike up conversation and how we keep it going. However, it demonstrates our lack of creativity in communication. We can’t be bothered to have an original thought, or dive deeper into a conversation. No, instead we stick to what we know and what we know is how to be negative. We’re stuck. Further, complaints about ourselves are often a selfish attempt to fish for compliments, hoping for affirmation from others to build up our small egos.
We like to live in shades of melancholy. Yes, we use pessimism to build ourselves up, rip apart others, and make long lasting friendships built on general mistrust of the world, but we also enjoy what our state of misery produces. The negative perspectives people hold have produced some of the finest art and literature. For example, writers like Herman Melville and Edgar Allen Poe have made careers out of misanthropy. We also would never really appreciate the joys of life without thoroughly pulling out the negatives of misery.
Complaining is simply the method we use to appreciate joy. It’s how we make friends and relate to one another, sharing in our misery. Complaints are how we build ourselves up, get the attention we (wrongfully) assume we deserve, and push a conversation onward. We like our pit, our hole, our uncreative rut. We’re stuck, we likely know it, but really positive thinking just seems like a whole lot of energy without a whole lot a payoff. The truth is, if you push your positivity on everyone you’re just as nauseating as the four bags of sugar-filled candy I ate when Halloween candy went on sale. Judith Timson may have dissed Barbara Ehrenreich for stinking on optimism but I applaud that effort. Don’t tell me to cheer up; I’ll do so when the situation calls for it, thank you very much.