I love the Current on the CBC.
Just tuned into the repeat program where I listened to writer, Barbara Ehrenreich talk about her latest book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. It was a great conversation that appeals to the misanthrope that lurks inside me, long after I stopped listening to the Smiths.
I agree with a lot of what she had to say – that in chasing happiness and insisting that we have to be outwardly positive to receive good things and to ward off or defend against bad things happening, is a load of crap. In just focusing on having a positive attitude we risk blaming people for their own misfortune because they weren’t positive enough. We also set up a system where no one has to help anyone because their attitude alone is what controls their lives.
Ehrenreich describes how this cult of positive thinking has affected work. She states that people are often fired for being negative or nay-saying. Like they aren’t being team players or supporting the boss or the company’s self-image. She says that it is the yes-men who are to blame for the current economic collapse.
I totally get what she is saying. Ehrenreich made me think of what it means to say “yes”, what it means to take ownership over your own attitude, and of a Seth Godin post, Looking for Yes.
1. Saying Yes doesn’t mean ignoring the no. To me it means figuring out the work-arounds or making efforts to affect what you have the power to change. Saying yes wherever you can rather than stating what you cannot do makes you solution oriented. Being solution oriented makes you more valuable at work.
2. Remembering the bright side keep you moving. When things get crappy we can easily get mired in our misery. I have definitely been so sad that I didn’t get out of bed – not to eat, not even to pee. I have been miserable. But I don’t stay numb from the pain for long. I always remember that it could always be worse. And the person you are envisioning that has it worse than you is saying to herself, it could always be worse. And so on. ‘At least I have my health,’ someone might say. ‘ At least I have enough money to take care of myself,’ someone sick might say. ‘At least I have someone who loves me,’ someone poor and sick might say. ‘At least I’m still good looking,’ someone poor, sick, and lonely might say. Sometimes, when I can’t move my heart to be cognizant that it could be worse, I call up my friend Eva who survived the Holocaust. She makes me laugh and tells me she loves me. I haven’t lost nearly half of what she has and she makes the effort to make positive change on the planet every day.
3. Positive thinking is about control, yours. The locus of control theory of psychology has been around for a while. While there is a lot of debate as to the depth of the effect, effect it does have. If you truly believe that you have no effect on your surroundings in any way, why bother? When I’m feeling despair over the fickle universe, I, at least, tell myself that by trying to make a change for the good, I’m not adding to the crap. Sometimes it is enough to simply make yourself feel good, if only because, in feeling positive, you are less likely to poop on someone else’s cornflakes.
4. Positive acting does work. Cognitive-behavioural therapy works. Sometimes, when you are not emotionally doing well, actually acting as though you are can help you get to that better emotional state. Whether it is an endorphin rush or whether you are just too busy doing to think too hard about the negative.
Look for solutions. Don’t think of yourself as being at the bottom of the barrel. Own your own universe so that you can control it. Act as you wish you felt. Forget positive thinking. Instead, act and be positive.