I’ve had it up to here (you can’t see me but I’m waving my hand as far above my head as I can get it) with relentless positivity.
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s when people say shit like ‘good vibes only’ or ‘you just need a positive attitude’.
Because those statements embody the tyranny of positivity, which is cruel, unkind and ineffective.
Those statements ignore the fact that life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.
They dismiss the real experience of being human, which includes the whole spectrum of emotion – good, bad, and all the in between states.
Like that twilight zone between sleep and consciousness, where you might actually temporarily be floating free of the Earth’s gravity without realising it.
Or when you feel like eating something but you’re not hungry and you eat something anyway. In Japan, they even have a word for it: kuchisabishii, which translates into “lonely mouth” or “longing to have or put something in your mouth”.
Change is the one constant in life. And it’s a difficult human state to exist in.
But learning how to do it is worth it.
Toxic positivity has reached a level in society where we’ve actually started to shun feeling uncomfortable.
And that’s bad. Because it means we’re saying ‘no thanks’ to learning and growing.
When we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.
Such as when we use quick and easy labels to describe how we’re feeling. No matter how inaccurate they are.
‘I’m stressed’ is a common one. But there’s a world of difference between stress and disappointment. Or that knowing dread of ‘I’m in the wrong career’.
But tough emotions are part of our contract with life. And stress is a response to being alive.
So, if you’ve ever experienced stress, congratulations, it means you’re alive.
But don’t worry about me, I’m not here to sell positivity as a form of moral correctness.
Because we already do enough of that to ourselves. And not only do we do it to ourselves, but we inadvertently shame our children out of emotions we see as negative.
In jumping to a solution we fail to teach them to see their emotions as valuable.
This rigid denial simply doesn’t work. And it’s unsustainable too because when emotions are pushed aside and ignored, they grow stronger.
It’s called amplification and it’s that thing where you think you’re in control of your ignored emotions, but they’re really in control of you.
Because internal pain always comes out. And who pays the price?
Only dead people don’t get unwanted emotions, are never inconvenienced by their feelings. Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure.
The bottom line is that you don’t get to have a career or raise a family or leave this world a better place unless you endure stress and discomfort.
Because discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.
So, join me in dismantling the rigidity and embrace emotional agility instead.
Do away with all those feelings you think you should be experiencing and open your heart to what you’re really feeling.
Research has shown that the radical acceptance of all our emotions – even the messy and difficult ones – is the cornerstone to resilience and true, authentic happiness.
When you label your emotions accurately, you’re more able to discern the precise cause of your feelings. Not to mention, what scientists call the ‘readiness potential’ in your brain is activated, which allows you to take – not just any steps – but the right steps for you.
Because your emotions are data.
So, when you feel a tough emotion, don’t race for the emotional exits. Instead, learn its contours, show up to the journal of your heart and lean into the silent correspondence with yourself.
Try to discern what that emotion is telling you.
This is your opportunity to take active steps to shape your life and align it more deeply with your beliefs.
Opening the door to the difficult emotions allows you to formulate responses that are aligned with your values.
Which actions will bring you closer to your values, and which actions will take you further away?
You own your emotions, they don’t own you.
And when you internalise the difference between how you feel, all your wisdom and what values-aligned action you take, you generate the pathway to your best self via your emotions.
Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and the courage to take steps connected by your values.
Courage is born of a lifelong correspondence with your own heart and seeing yourself as you really are – because in seeing yourself you are able to see others.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.