It is no small secret that I take issue with perpetually positive people. It’s not that I have issues with positivity in general. I try to maintain a positive outlook in life as often as possible. What I take issue with are people who always seem obligated to shine a light in my direction when a hint of darkness creeps into my life. People that are full of silver linings and rosy outlooks no matter what sort of shit storm I find myself in.
There is a word for this sort of blind optimism: Pollyannaism. It was coined from a character created by writer Eleanor Porter in her book Pollyanna. In this book the main character, Pollyanna plays the “glad game.” A game where she tries to find something to be glad about in every situation.
Now I am not such a curmudgeon that I would say that trying to find the positive in most situations is not a useful and effective mechanism for managing one’s mood and general outlook on life. But at some point, in order to face the storms that we must endure in life, we need to cut the Pollyanna bullshit and use our effort, not on finding the silver linings in the dark clouds above us, but on anchoring ourselves to something strong and unmovable and admitting that shit is real bad and it might be a while before we can get out of it.
This is a realistic approach to some of life’s most difficult situations and it is one that will serve you well when you get caught in the storms that you will face. But we need some guidance before we can effectively face those storms.
Pragmatic vs. Pessimistic
I know what people are going to say now; why would I want to be pessimistic in my life? To that I say, I am not proposing pessimism, I am proposing pragmatism and there is a huge difference between the two.
Pragmaticism is a rational, realistic approach to dealing with situations where we consider the practical considerations of a situation instead of the theoretical. Pessimism is negative fatalism that sees only the possibility of negative outcomes regardless of the practical considerations of a situation. Can you see the difference there and why pragmatism is a worthy course of action for most situations?
Pessimism is no different then Pollyannaism, in my opinion. They are both blind to the practical considerations of the situation. Both ignore the rational and both focus purely on the theoretical. Pragmaticism, however, approaches every fucked up situation in life and seeks to understand it rationally and then when considerations are taken for that particular situation, the most accurate assessment can be reached of what that situation is like and what it means for your life and how to remove yourself from it.
Sometimes, this means you just have to take a beating and stoically bear your cuts and wounds from the shitty circumstances of life. Other times it means you have every right to drop your head, curse your bad fucking luck and feel sorry for yourself for a little while. The key is to develop the rational and reasoned examination of your issues in a way that allows you to know the difference.
Face the hard truths of life
The constant seeking and presentation of the positive in every situation are dismissive of a very real and sincere truth about life and living. Sometimes it just a fucking mess and there is no silver lining or light at the end of the tunnel for the shit that we have to endure. And you know what? That’s ok!
Turning your face away from the difficult, painful and altogether miserable realities of living is not an effective way of managing those situations. Willful ignorance should never be taken as a path to happiness. It is better by far that you should turn your tear-stained face towards the brutal, beating winds of experience and let them rip at your heart and soul than you should look at the rainbows far off and pretend you aren’t getting torn to shreds.
Why is that better?
Because sometimes tears must be shed. Sometimes your heart and soul need to take a good, hard beating to build the calluses you need to make it through life. Sometimes you just have to admit that you don’t know what the fuck you are doing and where the fuck you are going so that you can reset your trajectory towards something greater. But to come out of the storm with something of yourself intact you need to get comfortable with being miserable.
Get comfortable with your sadness
Sadness and pain are not things to be avoided. They are things to be embraced. They are indicators of care and concern over the general bearing of your life. To ignore them is to ignore a very important fuel towards burning hotter in your pursuit of great things.
I know sadness and pain are difficult to face sometimes but facing them, looking them dead in the eyes and recognizing them as close, motivating friends, is a lot easier than ignoring them. When you ignore them they loom constantly in the periphery of your expectation of the world, darkening the skies and turning your moods at their discretion.
There is nothing wrong with taking some time to sit with your sadness and pain and acknowledging their presence. We should not dwell in that space with them, but we should say hello, treat them to a good visit and say our goodbyes before they have a chance to completely move in and further fuck up your life.
Getting comfortable with these hard things does not mean that you should become hard in the process. It means you will become malleable. Supple in the breath of the winds that blow in your life and confident that you will be able to bend and not break with them.
What’s more, if we become comfortable with our own sadness and pain we have a better chance of responding to other’s with the same sort of care and concern and we do not fall into the Pollyanna trap with others.
Misery Loves Company
Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who is facing a difficult situation in their life is not to point out all the positives that they have but to empathize with their misery – to acknowledge that they are in a tough, shitty situation and to simply offer a bit of company in their misery.
I am not saying you should completely join them in their negative outlook on the situation but merely sit with them through the storm. Offer a sympathetic ear and a meaningful presence. If I know one thing about people it is that everyone universally hates being told to look on the bright side of life or to be pointed towards all the things they have to be grateful for when all they want to do is fucking vent for a little while.
Besides, I am willing to bet that the person you are trying to comfort already knows about all the positive potential for their situation or all about the positives in their life. They don’t need some outside reminder by an uninterested, dismissive observer. They simply want to stew in the storm for a while, get hit by the rain and lightning and know that someone understands the difficulty they face.
We don’t have constantly try to maintain a mask of positivity in light of our struggles. It’s ok to look them straight in the eyes and tremble and shake and sweat and gnash your teeth at them in frustration and fear and sadness without offering them a smile and trying to look past them towards something brighter.
It’s ok to admit when you have been broken, and curse the twisted humor of fate for handing you the struggles you face. It’s ok to linger in the storm and listen to the lessons it has to offer. The howling winds and the torrential rains of your struggles have things to teach you, but only if you are willing to sit with them in a comfortable, confident way.
You have to get comfortable with terrible things. Not comfortable in a way that makes you hard and pessimistic, but comfortable in a way that allows you to see the reasoned, realistic ways that you can remove yourself from the difficult situations you face.
Facing those difficulties will make you stronger. They will make you more resilient and they will keep you honest about the direction and state of your life. What’s more, they will make you more understanding of the struggles that other people face and they will help you develop the empathy for the shit storms that rain in other people’s lives.
And when we can do all of this, with understanding and acceptance, we no longer fear the storm, we become it.