Social Question

Facade's avatar

Should we always be positive?

Asked by Facade (22922points) September 2nd, 2009

Say you’re having a bad day.
Do you think it would be best to pretend to be happy (positivity), or to feel what you are feeling (negativity)?
Is there a right way to be?
Should others try to force their positivity on you?

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52 Answers

Da_Wolfman's avatar

Always look for the positive side of things, the silver lining on that cloud; HOWEVER don’t be in denial about the reality of the situation….what goes up MUST come down.

ubersiren's avatar

People are so different that there can never be a single right way to be. I would say that it’s always beneficial to try to think positively, but when it’s forced, it probably causes more harm than good. Perhaps if you’re always negative, there’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean you should fake it. I, for one, can’t stand it when I’m in a hopeless mood and someone tries to force me to go out and have fun, or cheer up, or “put on a happy face!” That just makes me want to kill them, which can’t be good. :o) It’s probably something that you have to rely on your gut for. It’s subjective.

drdoombot's avatar

Others should never force anything on you, no matter how good it is. And you shouldn’t force anything on anyone else.

With that said, being positive is the best possible thing you can do for yourself. Negativity is a weight that holds you in the same spot, while positivity is a force that propels you forward.

Facade's avatar

@ubersiren I hate that too

teh_kvlt_liberal's avatar

I’d rather be realistic than optimistic

Les's avatar

If you feel like wallowing in your own self pity, then I say wallow. We all feel bad sometimes. And I think that it makes you feel worse to feel bad and pretend you don’t. Have a bad day, but try to figure out a way to get yourself back on track. That’s how I function (as an aside, today is a bad day for me. Gruff…)

drdoombot's avatar

Positivity and optimism are not the same thing.

noodle_poodle's avatar

i’ say plan for the worst but be realistic and take everything as it comes…no less no more

Facade's avatar

@drdoombot Care to explain?

drdoombot's avatar

Optimism is hoping for the best and seeing the silver lining in things. Positivity is more active; it’s about seeking the best in every situation and expelling negative thoughts that are not based on reality.

The thing about negativity is that it attracts “what-if” and “disaster-thinking.” One of the causes of negativity is unrealistic expectations. To make the effort to be realistic is positive in and of itself.

bumwithablackberry's avatar

I liked Bruce Lee’s saying how we have to be like a cork on the waves, up and down and such, but always level. I can’t fake it, that’s just, you know, fake. But if your trying to get a job, or help someone who’s downerer than you by all means, put on the clown shoes and smile.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

When we’re unhappy the least we can do is not project our negativity on to others.

AC's avatar

Personally I think there is a distinction to be made here.

Feeling happy or sad isn’t about being positive or negative. It’s about feeling the full range of emotions that define us as human beings. How else do we keep in tune with ourselves?

For example, when my Mother passed away it was a deeply sad emotive time and it was of course natural for me to experience those emotions. I wasn’t being positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic.

However, how I then chose to move forward brought these other factors into play.

Naturally we can all be a bit defeatist at times but I think asserting what control you can over your desired outcomes in life can lead, overall, to a more fulfilling experience.

In his book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl describes the horrors of being detained in a concentration camp. He explains that they could treat him brutally, strip him of his clothes, his dignity, his identity – but what they could not do, what they had no power over, was how he decided to feel about it and in that sense he had beaten them.

As a lecturer once said to me – You can travel through life as a passenger responding to the images as they pass by or you can drive the bus.


charliecompany34's avatar

it’s difficult to be positive when personal demons are existing. it depends on the character of the affected person to see beyond strongholds, doubts or unfortunate occurrences and still go on with the day in positive ways. not so easily achieved, but being “positive” is a learned trait that takes skill, will, diligence and understanding.

in other words, do what you have to do under the circumstances. use that “energy” for good. then deal with “whatever” when you can devote time to that issue. easier said than done. but yeah, that’s about the long and short of it.

drdoombot's avatar

@AC Much lurve for a GA.

jamielynn2328's avatar

I don’t think there’s a right way to be. But I have a problem with negative people. I am not an in-your-face-spunky-spaz, however I do like to live my life calmly. I don’t stress about that I cannot change. I stay positive through trials because negativity makes it hard for me to breath.

If you are negative at work, you bring down those around you. I wish that people would keep their negative attitudes at home.

We’ve all been told before how lucky we are because there are starving children/mothers/fathers around the world, and I know that it is a bit cliche to say, but it is true. I don’t have bad days, I have bad moments that I turn around. I always stay vigilant of the fact that there are people out there who live for their next meal, for survival. My problems are dog poo in comparison.

rooeytoo's avatar

I truly believe that my outlook, be it positive or negative, has a definite influence on the outcome of my endeavors. So I always try to be positive.

But I agree that is not the same thing as “happy.” I can have a bad day and not be happy but still be positive about what I am doing.

When I am not happy, I try not to project that on others, it is my feeling, not theirs.
Especially at work, I make money by selling and a happy face sells a lot more than a sad one!.

I want my family and friends to let me be who I am, if I am allowed to feel my feelings, I get over them quickly and back to my usual ordinary me!

Darwin's avatar

“Positivity is more active; it’s about seeking the best in every situation and expelling negative thoughts that are not based on reality.”

In this sense I believe it is essential to be positive. I have faced so many bad situations that I would have long ago devolved into complete depression and mental paralysis if I hadn’t continued to be positive no matter what. Every single day I make a point of finding something to enjoy. If I didn’t I would sink like a stone and get stuck in the mud of despair.

When the doctor tells you your husband has a 10% chance of survival and asks if you have a black dress, the positive response is to make sure you know where the insurance documents are, and get a lovely dress on sale at Dillard’s just in case. You can always wear it when you cook a romantic dinner at home after he shocks the doctors and survives (which he did that time).

Now my husband is facing dialysis. Being negative about it won’t help anything and might even make him refuse treatment. But being positive by learning to cook good-tasting meals that will help him better regulate his blood chemistry is both fun and useful.

Call me Pollyanna if you want. If you cry, your nose hurts, so do what it takes to keep from crying.

hearkat's avatar

@AC: MUCH Lurve and Welcome to Fluther!

YARNLADY's avatar

I reached a point where I decided to make a pledge to myself to be happy every single day for the rest of my life. I didn’t like the alternative. I still allow myself private moments to “wallow”, but for the most part, I just don’t see any point in not being happy. Nothing good comes of that.

wundayatta's avatar

Positivity is a tool that some people use to try to make themselves feel better, and to make their lives come out more in the way they want.

There’s no normative requirement that I would place on anyone to be positive. I think it’s up to you. Do what you want. If positivity floats your boat, then do it. Otherwise, don’t. I think it is shameful for people to tell others that they just aren’t positive enough, or that they should be positive. However, I think that speaks more to their own fears and wishes than it does to any decent advice.

Facade's avatar

@YARNLADY And for those whose brain chemistry won’t allow that?

Disc2021's avatar

When you’re having a bad day, you’re having a bad day. You could try and pretend – but that’s exactly what it is, pretentious.

But sometimes positivity is all it takes. Sometimes smiling during the roughest times is the only thing that will make you want to continue – that is, believing that there really is a bright like at the end of a dark tunnel.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Facade Every one of us is in charge of our own body. If any one needs medication or other physical adjustments to adjust their “brain chemistry” then it is up to them to consult their medical provider and discover the best combination to meet their goals.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Disc2021 I don’t see how chooseing to be happy even when you are having a bad day is pretending. I am happy every single day that I wake up, and there is no “bad day” that can change that. I am happy that I do not have go hungry – ever – and that I have a wonderful family, and that my son survived a severe stroke, and is currently in rehabilitation, and no “bad day” will change that.

I am happy that my Husband loves me, and that my son and his wife have two adorable, loveable children, and the list goes on and on, and no “bad day” is going to take that away from me.

Facade's avatar

It’s pretending because you’re acting as though you are happy when you are not. You apparently aren’t unhappy, so you aren’t pretending.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Facade My point is that there is so much to be happy for, even on a bad day, that it not necessary for anyone to “pretend”. What I can’t understand is why anyone would allow some outside issue to decide for them how they are going to feel that day.

Facade's avatar

And I can’t understand how it can’t, so here we are.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Facade You choose, you decide. If you choose not to be happy, that is your own decision. If you don’t feel that you are able to choose, due to circumstances beyond your control, see your medical provider. If you don’t want to, that is your choice. Again, it comes down to what you, yourself, choose to do, or not.

Facade's avatar

@YARNLADY The brain chemistry wasn’t about me, but about others with that type of depression. But I have tried to not let “some outside issue” whatever that means bother me, but have been unsuccessful. So good for you for always being able to keep chugging along with a smile on your face.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Facade I was replying to the “bad day” statement in the question. If you have a different question, you could ask the Fluther community. I am sorry to see you have been unsuccessful in controlling how you feel. I know there is a way to have a favorable outcome, if you choose to find it.

drdoombot's avatar

I used to think exactly like @Facade , until my anxiety was so bad that I started having panic attacks. I sank into the deepest depression of my life, resigning myself to a terrible future of fear and unfulfilled wishes. And then I found a audio course about getting over my anxiety and depression and I thought, having nothing to lose, I’ll throw myself into it headfirst. It completely changed my life for the better, and a huge part of it was learning positivity. At any other time in my life, it would have seemed stupid and corny, but when I was at my lowest point, I was willing to try anything. I don’t regret putting my faith into my own power to change my life by being positive. The fact that I’m doing so well now is the proof that if you believe in something and follow through, you’ll get it.

hearkat's avatar

@Facade and @YARNLADY: I see a difference of perspective here that to me seems to be due to experience. Facade, I have the impression that you are quite young – in your eary 20s? Whereas, I believe that YarnLady is over 60… I have read many posts and comments by each of you and am fond of you both. I feel some frustration that you don’t seem to be able to get where each other is coming from.

YarnLady… when you were in your 20s and 30s and went through the challenges that you’ve faced, you may recall a time when you were not able to relate to those who were ‘positive’ or ‘optimistic’. Perhaps it would be more beneficial to Facade and other readers if you could give examples of how you chose unhappiness at earlier times in life, and how you developed your ability to choose happiness now that gets you through even the tough times of having your son in serious medical condition.

@drdoombot: Could you also please offer some concrete examples of how you made the transition and the ways in which it progressively changed your outlook?

I am in my 40s and as most of you know, I have survived childhood sexual abuse and was married to an alcoholic who succumbed to the disease shortly after we divorced while our son was still very young. I feel that I have overcome my negativity, depression, self-loathing, cynical pessimism by choosing to focus on the positive in my life. I have progressively found ways to see the good in every situation – even if it is only to observe how “it could have been worse”.

It started by practicing gratitude for every little thing that was good; then evolved to include finding the good even when things don’t seem to go my way. For example, a good parking space when I’m in a hurry is worthy of a “thank you” sent out to the universe; while a far parking space when I’m in a hurry now is an opportunity to elevate my heart rate and burn a few extra calories. That is a very simplistic illustration, but is shows how the focus is shifted from the negative to the positive.

As you may be aware, my own son has been to the Emergency Room 3 times from April to July, and in each case he might have easily been in the morgue. These are the times when “it could have been worse” definitely came into play, because that was the only positive I was able to see. I am hopeful that my son learned valuable lessons through those experiences, but they have yet to really come to light in his 18-year-old, tightly wound, chip-on-his shoulder, invincible mind.

But rather than worry about him continuing to make irrational choices that put him at risk, as my mother is prone to do, I let it go… I tell my son that I love him, and that I want him to be smart and healthy and take care of himself. But I know that he will do what he wants to regardless of whether I am losing sleep or not. So why should I allow something over which I am powerless to eat me up from the inside out? Why should I focus my energy and attention on something that I fear which may or may not happen? I have faith in the work that I have put in as a parent and in my son’s own character that he will ultimately make the right choices. That’s all I can do.

So I no longer have “a bad day”, because I don’t allow a crappy incident get under my skin, so that the negativity doesn’t carry over into the next crappy incident – even if there are several with in the same 24-hour period.

I am neither an optimist or a pessimist; I am a “Hopeful Realist”. The glass is BOTH half empty and half full—and yet it always contains exactly as much as I need.

YARNLADY's avatar

@hearkat Thank you, I have, indeed, been through some very trying times when I thought I was at the mercy of circumstances. I went through helpful therapy, and I had a lot of support from my family. I have been where I thought I had no choice about how I felt, and I was more unhappy than most can imagine.

I lost my first husband to an automobile accident before our first anniversary, and was left with a brand new baby. I lost my second husband to a fast acting cancer, less than 10 years later. After psychological therapy, and several other sources I actively searched (before the days of instant commuter access to help sources) I discovered that no one – not young or old, has to suffer that way.

Everyone can find the way to be happy every day – if you want to! I would never tell anyone they have to choose this path. It is the path I found and chose, and everyone else can choose the same path.

hearkat's avatar

@YARNLADY: Yes, I recall that you have dealt with tremendous tragedy and hardship, and you now have the benefit of hindsight. Would you mind sharing some of the things that helped you make that transition? If you could go back in time to that young widow with an infant, what would you say to her?

YARNLADY's avatar

I’m not sure that fits the question here. I have shared a lot in other questions asking how people combat the feelings of utter hopelessness and grief. For this question, I would like to emphasise that it can be done, but it has to be the choice of each person. Some people like being sad and don’t want “help”.

The short answer: family and time. The rest can be found through research.

hearkat's avatar

@YARNLADY: I see your point. The question is fairly specific. I just got the impression from the subsequent comments that further discussion might be helpful.

Zen's avatar

You might like this article I included in my question “here”

Darwin's avatar

@Facade – You said “It’s pretending because you’re acting as though you are happy when you are not”

Actually, recent research has confirmed a theory that has been bruited about for over 100 years. The expression on your face affects your mood. If you smile, you become happier, even if the smile is forced at first. If you frown, you become less happy, again even if you force the frown.

In one study, scientists found that simply having people place the muscles of their face in the pattern of a given emotional expression elicited that feeling. In another, it was found that facial expressions affected the temperature of blood flowing to the brain, providing a possible mechanism for regulating emotions.

In other words, if you pretend you are happy, you become happier than you were.

When I was your age I thought it was hogwash, too, but as someone with problems with clinical depression I figured I would give it a try. And I discovered it worked. On days when I woke up feeling down or sad or even angry, if I forced myself to smile my mood would lift.

Now it isn’t a replacement for the medication that helps me stay on an even keel, but it sure is helpful. As you get older and face more adversity you might give it a try.

Facade's avatar

@Darwin I have given it a try. Didn’t work. But it’s good to know that it could work.

hearkat's avatar

Fake it ‘til you make it!” I applied that to my self-confidence in social situations, as well. It is beneficial!

bumwithablackberry's avatar

“Speaking lyrically with positivity but not the kind with the HIV” word

Darwin's avatar

@Facade – Try it longer. Some folks are slower to warm up than others.

wundayatta's avatar

@Darwin I forgot about that. I’ve taken tai chi workshops where we put ourselves in various postures and felt how that changed our emotions. The various mudras are postures designed to express common attitudes. Interestingly, if you put someone in a posture, they are likely to report feeling the feeling associated with that posture.

For example, if you have someone bow their head and go down on their knees, and press their palms together in front of their heart, they will typically feel a feeling of surrender. If you raise their arms above their head, lean them back and face them to the sky, they will typically feel as if their hearts are opening up.

If you sit down, and put one finger up and the other hand out, as if offering something on your palm, you will feel didactic—like a teacher.

Once, I went through the Asian museum at the Smithsonian, and took my daughter to each of the Buddhist statues, and had her put herself in the pose of the statue. It was a long time ago, but I think I remember that she kind of got it.

There are “laughing” meditations. If you make yourself laugh, even though it is forced at the beginning, it will not be long before it is no longer forced. I mean, how ridiculous is it to fake laughing? It’s just impossible to keep on faking it without it becoming real.

So, a smile on your face, if kept up, should make you feel whatever it is we feel when we are smiling. Good? Happy?

However, the fact that we can manipulate our emotions by manipulating our bodies is not the same thing as changing an attitude by making ourselves think in the mode of the attitude we wish to assume. I believe that it can work, and I know many people report it as working.

However, I also believe there are people for whom the technique doesn’t work. Perhaps we have too much armor inside to let it work. Perhaps we can not get beyond our cynical thoughts. Or perhaps we are so invested in our image of ourselves as moody or melancholic people that we really don’t want to be positive.

Now, I’ve been so depressed as to want to die, and yet, even so, I find something attractive about being depressed. Odd as it may sound, I learn something important when I am depressed that I could not learn otherwise. It is painful to gain learning in this fashion, and I’m not at all sure if I could explain what I’ve gotten from it, but for some reason, it fits me.

I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps not all of us need to be positive. Perhaps not all of us need to be quite as pain-free as others. Perhaps we even need our pain. It’s a journey, and to try to dishonor it by making it go away feels like a cheat of some kind.

I believe that people who are covering over their pain and problems by acting chipper and cheerful when they really aren’t have lost some of their authenticity. I also think that it keeps them from really dealing with their problems. I believe that if I were to hide my depression by acting happy and thinking positive, that it would come back over and over again, weakening me more each time.

But if I let myself feel my depression, and go into it fully, I will come back out the other side and I will have learned much more about coping with it than I would have attempting to wallpaper it over. This is a risky approach. I could die before I come out the other side. Seventeen percent of people with my condition die of it.

I think there is honor to the feelings you feel. I think they come from some deep place inside you that knows more than you know. I am not saying that I think pain or depression is noble. I’m just saying that it is helpful to honor it by allowing yourself to feel it. People can wallow in pain and self pity. But that’s not honoring pain, either. That’s manipulating it.

Well, you know what they say: shampoo for champagne and real poo for real pain.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

No. I pretend when at work in order to not upset the flow of things. I pretend in front of particular acquaintances I’m not comfortable opening up to or I know can’t be trusted with my vulnerability or confidence. Aside from that, I don’t try to cover my downtimes too deeply because that just prolongs getting over and through the bad spell.

rooeytoo's avatar

In AA meetings, it is often said to “act yourself into a way of thinking.”

I have found it to work quite well.

I used to be a miserable bitch, now I am happy as a clam ;-)

YARNLADY's avatar

I practice being happy in public and let my other feelings “happen” in private. Why show my worst side in public?

AC's avatar

@hearkat @drdoombot, thank you for your lurve and for the welcome.

With regard to the idea of pretending/faking it I do believe you can alter your moods through conscious choice and changes in behaviour.

If my internal dialogue tells me I’m useful then I have a better chance of feeling that way than if it tells me I’m useless.

In order to achieve the change though I think you first have to be aware of what your behaviours and thoughts are, rather than automatically going with what you’ve ‘learnt’ over the years. This alone is sometimes enough for people to make significant change.

If you feel a particular way, rather than blame external forces (going with the idea that you choose how to feel) try breaking down what steps you took to get to where you are.

What did you see, feel, hear. What meaning and emotion did you apply to it and what conclusions did you come to.

Try different meanings, different assumptions, different conclusions and ultimately decide how you feel about that.

Just a thought.


bumwithablackberry's avatar

I’m happy as a beaver in clam sauce.
I owe some of that to this site, it’s been helpful, fun, and all that, thanks everyone, much love out into the void that is

mattbrowne's avatar

No, it would be counterproductive. The best thing one can do on a bad day is to remind oneself that it will pass.

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