The Downside of “Staying Positive”

If you are taking the time to read this, you're likely someone who is dedicated to creating a joyful life. You have earnest intentions and compassionate aspirations. Unfortunately, dedication is vulnerable to sliding into standards and ideas about how you should be. Focusing on genuine gratitude and what’s working well is an essential part of living with joy and training your mind. But when this genuine practice slips into a forced stay positive attitude, there is a cost. 

Let’s look at an example. A Connection Gem reader, let's call her Janna, wrote about trying to stay positive at work.  She felt drained by taking responsibility for helping others stay positive. This also left her feeling lonely and longing for camaraderie and mutuality. In addition, this blocked discernment about what changes she could make at work.  In her good intention, Janna lost connection to her own authenticity and the capacity to be with the grief of things not working. With a loss of connection to herself, came a loss of connection to others.

When a forced stay positive attitude persists, you might find yourself trying to be a perfect model of positivity for others rather than allowing shared humanity.  Or, you might find yourself trying to smooth things over or avoid what’s happening. When you lose an authentic connection to your own feelings and needs, you can begin to believe that others can't be there for your difficulties.  The more you imagine others can't be there for you, the less they tend to inquire about your feelings and needs, the more you think they don’t care about you, the less you share; and so goes a downward spiral.

When it seems like you are stuck in an unhelpful stay positive mindstate, you can experiment with one or more of these simple interventions to help you interrupt this pattern:

  1. Set your intention for the day to notice feelings of disappointment, frustration, irritation, or grumpiness. Each time you do, take one focused inhale and exhale while relaxing muscles in your face, shoulders, and chest.

  2. Take one risk this week to let someone you trust, see your struggle and your needs.  It's hard for others to contribute to you when you are busy being "positive". Mindfully notice their response to you and how you take it in.

  3. Experiment with pausing for even a moment to notice disappointment, sadness, or grief whenever it arises. Sometimes forced positivity arises from a fear of being engulfed by grief or depression. You can build your confidence with these feelings by noticing them in small doses.

  4. Remind yourself that healthy relationships aren't built on forced positivity, but rather they are built on authenticity and caring.  That caring starts with attending to your needs as much as you attend to the needs of others.

  5. Observe your experience: How can you tell the difference between a positivity that comes from an attempt to avoid something else and a positivity that is a genuine contribution to yourself and others?

If a forced stay positive attitude is an old pattern in your life, start with compassion. It likely began as a much needed coping strategy at a time when you didn’t have the skills and support you might have now. Part of growing and healing emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually is gaining confidence that you can have a very diverse array of experiences in life and not be swallowed up by any. With practice, you can cultivate an internal refuge that remains positive and equanimous, without leaving anything out.


This week choose one of the five practices above to experiment with.