It feels to me like there’s a bit of a contradiction when it comes to self-help and positive thinking.
On the one hand we’re told not to bottle up our feelings. Not saying when something bothers you is BAD – we all need to learn to be more open about our emotions, to be honest and authentic and not keep things inside.
On the other hand we have gratitude journals and endless inspirational images online – pastel starscapes and swirly fonts – telling us, sometimes desperately, to think positive thoughts, appreciate how wonderful our lives are and remember how lucky we are to be alive.
I don’t have anything at all against a good gratitude journal and I appreciate the value in focussing on the good things in our day to day lives, but sometimes I wonder if all of this positive thinking isn’t causing us to silence our not so positive thoughts.
When I’ve written in a journal in the past it’s been at difficult points in my life where I need to vent frustration or think through a problem. The act of writing helps me to clarify my own thoughts and at the end I normally feel lighter. I’ve given myself that space to be angry or sad or confused and letting those feelings out has helped me to understand them, process them, and move on. When the focus is always on gratitude, what’s gone well, and positive goals for the next day, I wonder if we aren’t actually doing ourselves a massive disservice, pushing the negative feelings away, trying to paint over them with uplifting mantras.
It feels like a strange time to be in, because you could say that we are more open about our feelings than ever – more and more people are comfortable now talking about their mental health struggles and we are increasingly accepting and understanding of things like anxiety and depression.
But what if you fall sort of in the middle?
You might not be depressed or anxious – perhaps you just feel lonely, or restless, or cross, or something you can’t put your finger on (like a midlife unravelling). You don’t feel it warrants putting yourself out there as ‘struggling’, and yet what’s the alternative? Heading to Pinterest to look at positive quotes and sunny pictures of meals you’ll never feel motivated enough to make? Brainstorming an inspiring vision board for where you want your perfect life to be in five years time?
While I do think that there is value in optimism and a positive mindset, surely there is room too for something that allows us to feel that life is sometimes sad and lonely and pointless feeling? I’m not saying we just all be negative and miserable the whole time, but just something that acknowledges that not everything can always be solved by listing three things that went well in your day, and that it’s okay to find life a slog.
Perhaps if we did more of this it would feel less lonely, because we wouldn’t have to imagine that everyone else was skipping through their day waiting for it to rain, just so that they could dance between the raindrops.
With so many positive thinking books (whatever you do do NOT read this one) and inspirational quotes oozing from the internet, I think we risk forgetting that the negative emotions are as much a part of the human experience as the positive ones. Our lives are constantly changing and evolving and we shouldn’t panic just because on any one day or week or even year, we don’t feel like we want to stroll through the park taking deep breaths and enjoying the beauty that is a single daisy facing the sun.
There will be periods of time and situations in our lives, where things feel harder and less joyful than normal and we have to be okay with that. It doesn’t mean things are falling apart or that you can’t get on with work and looking after the house, or that you can’t still enjoy things sometimes, or that it will last forever, or that you’re alone in feeling that way.
It’s normal and it will pass. Everything does. Even the good stuff. (Bummer.)