Shut Up With The Bullsh*t Positivity

‘Tis the season of giving, and thank f*cking God or whichever celestial being you believe in for it - because it’s been a rough year for us all. Hopefully, with any luck, we might be able to have 30 days to be thankful and grateful for each other and Holiday ham, distracting from the 24-hour news cycle, political upheaval, and civil unrest we have endured - ALL..YEAR…LONG.

Of course, this is in addition to the personal and professional drama which challenged us this year, which we’ll undoubtedly have to relive in the live Q&A session that is every Holiday family gathering. I’m not jaded - this is just reality. And you know what? It is what it is. No positive spins, no silver linings. Just take it, and run with it, because the positivity despite circumstance is probably making us all a little bit more disappointed in the long run.

The last couple years, I’ve thrown myself into the self-help world. Actually, it’s been a series of years following my Dad’s passing. I got into it in order to save myself from falling into a pit of despair; I needed something to hold on to, to guide me, and to bring me back to a place where I could enjoy life again.

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I would never admit that I wasn’t okay, or unhappy though. The very next day, I showed up to my University for exam results and awkwardly informed a handful of classmates about what had happened after having a light 30 minute chat, which was met with the first of a series of confused looks and reactions.

I was determined to ‘be happy’, and made it my mission to show others that you could be okay after something utterly tragic. I suppose it is one of my better qualities to want to use my pain and experience to teach others, but in retrospect and following some harsh introspection, I think it is also one of my worst qualities when it’s purely reactionary.

Perhaps it was naivety, or perhaps the natural optimism we have in our early twenties - the kind that persists until it gets knocked out of you by life - but I truly thought I would be fine as long as I stayed positive after his death. I made it my mantra that ‘these things happen for a reason’, and ‘if this hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t have become so strong, or felt motivated enough to get my job and start my exciting life in the city’.

All that is great - it’s better than wallowing in misery, griping about ‘why this is happening’ or that ‘it’s so unfair’. But what I was missing was something critical: the understanding that it’s okay to just sit in the shit for a while.

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What I mean by that is - recognizing that the situation is unpleasant. Stop trying to make it be anything other than what it is, and just be in it. Have you ever tried to swim against the current? At a certain point you become exhausted. You can’t fight the current, and you can’t fight the way things are. You can’t change events that happened, nor can you force someone to change or believe what you believe.

Positivity - the kind that denies the negative aspects of life and promises abundance simply by keeping a certain frame of mind - is bullsh*t. There are tons of people getting everything they want - without thinking positively. Many people who lead the free world are not positive, and certainly do not give unto others as they would unto themselves. What are they doing? They are busy doing. They may not be positive, but they can grind. A toxic competitive spirit can go a long way, they probably won’t be too happy in the end though. Can you imagine if you had the best of both worlds?

Stop fooling yourself that things will get better in time if you just believe, or if you just keep a positive attitude. You need to work to get better. Work is hard. It’s shit. It’s a process that requires commitment and a thick skin to get through the tough bits. You need to know what it feels like to feel upset, sad, disheartened. That is where true positivity comes from. You can only know what joy feels like in relation to its total opposite; you can only know you have found the right place when you have felt your heart’s own depth.

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So often we want to stop feeling shitty and get back to feeling good. We self-medicate on drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms instead of the recreational fun potions they should be. Why? When did it become uncool to grieve? When did it become reasonable to think that we shouldn’t feel a whole half of the human experience?

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the drug ‘soma’ is a drug taken by society to escape pain, discomfort, embarrassment, sadness or anger and to enhance joy, arousal, and an overall sense of well being. This is as poignant a symbol for our times than ever before.

We use religion and other kinds of worship to get ourselves out of negative spirals as fast as possible - to shut down negativity in its tracks. When I speak of religion and worship, I’m not only singling out traditional faith and fundamentalists. It’s everything we do from positivity conferences, meditation, yoga, spin class, and crossfit.

Anything can be a drug, and everything is a drug so long as you’re ignoring the underlying truth which is always there, waiting. You can’t f*cking Tony Robbins your way out of feeling your own humanity. Sack up and be a pussy for goodness sakes. We need to balance strength and weakness; we need to see the value in both and respect them equally.

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Years after Dad’s passing, everything caught up with me like a tornado. I was triggered. During a time where I should have only been dealing with a painful breakup, I also had to finally deal with all the shitty emotions that came with losing a parent all over again, and for real this time.

What did I learn about positivity? Real positivity? I’m still learning every day and getting it through my thick skull that you can only be really positive when you let yourself sit with both good and bad; all those light and shadowy pieces of yourself, and also of others - and accepting them as they are. You give yourself what you need - if that’s taking a knee, having a cry, getting away, doing something new. Replace the idea of positivity with resiliency - the ability to traverse and recover from both good times and bad times with grace. It means maintaining an equilibrium.

Have the freaking happiest Holiday season ever, and if you don’t then just recovery bravely and work toward better times with hope in your perfect human heart.

Arianne TongComment