“How are you staying positive?”
“Positive thinking is an absolute must in these times!”
“What do you do to maintain a positive mindset?”
I understand these questions and their intent. For some people, positive thinking is part and parcel of their personalities and culture; if they and the people around them aren’t happy, they feel like something’s gone wrong – possibly even feeling like it’s their fault.
I’d like to encourage a brief moment of contrarian thinking: it’s okay to not be okay right now. When you’re in the middle of a storm, it’s okay to not be happy, to not be positive, to not “put on a brave face”, as someone said to me once. We feel pain, anxiety, fear, and anger by design, for good reason. These emotions are part of who we are. Could you make a PB&J sandwich without the peanut butter? No. It’s incomplete. And you’re not a complete human being without things like fear, anger, or sadness.
The emotions we call negative are only so if we get stuck there. While you’re in the circumstances that generate negative emotions, it’s natural and good to feel them. If you stub your toe or step on a Lego, no one expects you to immediately sing happily about it. No one expects you to sit in a burning room and be happy about it.
And, if we do get stuck in a negative emotion once the circumstances have changed, rather than forcing ourselves to put those emotions aside, it might be worth taking some time to dig a little deeper – perhaps even with professional, therapeutic help – to find out why. Sometimes, the things we think make us happy are self-distractions away from a greater pain we haven’t faced. It sucks to process it. It sucks to deal with old wounds, past trauma, dark moments, forgotten pains – but when we do, when we deal with them, it clears the way for happiness to occur without us forcing it.
There’s a reason almost every major religious tradition in the world has a monastic order, and part of the training in that monastic order involves seclusion and isolation. It’s not to clarify the religion, but to clarify the practitioner to their own truths, to cut away the junk that’s holding them back so they can advance in their spiritual training.
We’re experiencing a unique time right now, a time when the entire world is taking a vow of seclusion and isolation. Consider giving some of that time to your own spiritual training, to investigate what makes you happy and what doesn’t.
Most of all, give yourself permission, or if you need it externally, I give you permission to not be okay right now – and to not feel bad about not being okay.
Feel those emotions honestly and fully. If you get self-honesty right, happiness tends to follow, and you won’t need to worry about “staying positive”.
Be yourself honestly. That’s how you’ll get to okay.
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