Updated: Oct 24, 2018
I am a well-known optimist. I am adept at finding the silver lining in the grayest of clouds, skilled at making lemonade when handed lemons, serving up spoonfuls of sugar to help everyone’s medicine go down. It’s partly why I’m good at public relations – I can find ways to urge anyone to look on the bright side of any situation. Few would argue that this attribute is undesirable.
Certainly not me – I have exercised the positivity muscle until it’s well developed for good reason – I don’t like to feel bad. And early in life, I discovered that feeling bad could be changed with one small flip of my psychological switch. Reframing, I called it later in life. Recently I learned the truth – there is another dimension to optimism.
Unchecked, unguarded and too thickly administered, optimism can have unintended negative consequences. Simply put, optimism can blind you to the truth about people and situations, and the truth, the reality of a situation, is always what we need to respond to and deal with… not some glossy version of the truth we have told ourselves in order to feel good. I realize that when I want something VERY much, I tend to ignore facts sometimes necessary for a truly successful outcome. This, I’ve decided, isn’t good.
It’s a fine line – I still believe in reframing, and I certainly believe in the power of positive feeling and thinking . I’m not talking about choosing negative thoughts over positive ones… I’m talking about being real and accepting facts as important data when you’re making decisions.
In his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Faber & Faber, Inc (2012), Oliver Burkeman says that the popularity of positive thinking that has pervaded popular culture and the self-help industry and our constant effort to be positive and look at the bright side of things is exactly what makes us miserable. He says that maybe the way to true happiness is accepting and embracing negativity, failure, uncertainty, insecurity, and even death. Not to focus on the gloomy aspects of life, but not to ignore them because after all, they are part of life.
So that’s what I’m going to try – embracing ALL the aspects of situations in order to be real about them, and hopefully, to be more effective in dealing with them and creating what I want.