Shortly after I started my site in October of 2014, I came across a blog by a woman who spoke a lot about her personal unhappiness. Her posts often included resentment toward people who simply told her to “be positive.”
I agree with her sentiment. Most of the information regarding finding happiness perpetuates the myth that we must replace negativity with positivity. If you’ve tried this approach, you know how futile it is. The truth is that happiness is not reliant on positivity to the exclusion of all negativity.
In fact, it’s possible that too much positive thinking may be unhealthy. According to psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D., those with an extensive bipolar disorder (or variations thereof) can experience states of excessive positive thinking and engage in behaviors that could be self-destructive. This “mania” can interfere with the experience of reality and result in risk-taking behaviors, such as excessive drinking, theft, or even more dangerous actions due to a type of “everything’s wonderful and nothing can hurt me” mindset. Most of us do not experience positivity to that extreme, of course, but it is possible for us to get carried away with over-focusing on positivity and lose the productive perspective that negativity can bring.
Admittedly, there are some types of negativity that should be kicked to the curb; however, we must first determine whether our negativity is serving a productive purpose before we can decide what to keep and what to remove. This is a part of what I call the development of Negativity Wisdom.
About a year ago, I created a poll on my site in a post titled A Quick Poll: The 5 Steps to Happiness that asked which one of the following options was the most challenging obstacle in finding happiness:
- Adoring yourself
- Gratitude – no complaining!
- Cancelling the negative noise (controlling negativity)
- Deciding to be happy (understanding it’s a choice)
- Sharing the joy with others
The most popular answer, with 46% of the vote, was cancelling or controlling negativity. I was a bit taken aback that the majority of people thought negativity was the main obstacle to happiness, but I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at all. We’re typically conditioned to believe that all negativity is the enemy.
Negativity is an inherently human attribute that we need in our lives, and when it is approached correctly it will not prevent us from being happy. Rather than trying to eradicate something we naturally possess, the key is to learn to analyze our negativity and then effectively put it to work for us, rather than against us.
Before you attempt to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones, consider whether your negative-minded approach is serving a productive purpose. For example, are you using negativity to contingency plan for potential problems (effective usage) or did your planning turn fatalistic with scenarios that are statistically unlikely to occur (ineffective usage)?
By analyzing our negativity we can begin to understand its useful aspects. Developing Negativity Wisdom is a matter of learning how to wisely use what we’ve naturally been given so that negativity doesn’t prevent us from accessing inner happiness.
To read more about Negativity Wisdom and happiness: The reason a glass half full isn’t the right approach
Image “Happy And Sad Smileys Shows Emotions” by Stuart Miles courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net