unsplash via danka peter

 

“She’s just so damned happy and sweet, watch out or you may get a cavity. Is that smile surgically sewn on her face?”


My mom describing the mother of a friend, as we drove to their house for an outing when I was  a teen. Because she was classy like that.


I don’t remember much else about that day aside from my mother’s insensitive comments. Beth’s mom had lost a child to a car accident a decade before, and though I was young, I’d always found her cheerful disposition and kind gestures comforting. Surely other adults in the same situation would have reverted to bitterness, anxiety, and major depression.


Uncouth behavior aside, there are pitfalls to always looking on the bright side of life. Especially if you lean toward a negative self-image:


A 2012 Canadian study, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, found a negative correlation between positive self-statements and mood in people with low self-esteem. Those who try to pump themselves up with such phrases as “I accept myself completely” end up feeling worse, in part, because affirmations conflict with their own view of themselves.

 

As a therapist working with adults, teens and families, I encourage my anxious clients to make positive psychology a part of their lives. For some, this means recognizing the good deeds they’re doing, while undoing the ingrained childhood tendencies of self-loathing and listening to their inner critic. For others, this is learning the world is not supposed to be perpetual sunshine and roses. Regardless of your constitution and outlook, however, all the hope in the universe is not going to get you on the other side of some situations.

 

“Whatever you do, do not make smiley faces or write, ‘Have a great day! or ‘Yummy!’ on the foil lids. The colored markers are for special dietary instructions like ‘Needs Ensure’ or ‘Vegetarian.’ Remember, these are people living with HIV/AIDS. There is no cure, and there is no great day when you’re bedridden and dying, got that?!”

 

These were the instructions from the head chef years ago when I volunteered at a soup kitchen which provided hot meals to homebound men and women living with HIV-AIDS.

Believing life wp themes does not hold tragedy and inexplicable horrors is to live in denial. Sure life is beautiful, but sometimes mothers kill their children and preachers molests boys. And while the rigid thought process of thinking life is perfect is not as common as the tendency to catastrophize, it can be just as damaging. Especially when positive thinking leads to “magical thinking” and your desire to deny the truth overwhelms your ability to perceive reality.

Some people ignore the warning signs of catastrophic illness, or refuse to follow safety instructions and it kills them in the end. And sometimes there are no warning signs. Your best bet is to treat positivity as a part of your emotional tool kit, with caveats…

 

  • Be positive you’ll try your best, but not that your best will be rewarded
  • Be positive you’ll face hard decisions, even when there is no silver lining
  • Be positive you can help others, but know your assistance may go unwanted
  • Be positive you’ll manage your emotions, even when this means feeling depressed or anxious
  • Be positive, and you’ll see the good in the good ones…even if your mom never taught you how

 

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Until next week,

—Linda

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