Is Positivity really positive?

Updated: Oct 12, 2018

Is positivity really positive?

I had to endure a 'motivational' speaker the other day. I say endure as for me there is nothing more unmotivating than someone who preaches (and they seem to quite literally preach; their way is the only way) nothing but positivity. I would go as far as to say it's actually harmful and needs to stop!


Positivity is great. You’ve all been around a positive person and I’m sure found it infectious. Positivity breeds positivity- in yourself and in others around you. Around social media platforms there are many posting all the memes [basically words over a picture] of positive messages, videos about the power of positivity and a great message. We’re living in a happy jolly time if you were an alien looking at social media. Figures released in 2017 for personal well being show people scoring themselves an average of 7.5/10 for happiness, but also 2.9/10 for anxiety [1]. Happiness has risen over the years, and anxiety has reduced according to those statistics. Yet according to research by the Samaritans, “There has been a decreasing trend in the UK suicide rate until around 2007. Since then, there has been a general increase in rates.”[2]  This doesn’t really match up.

dangers of always being positive
Are there dangers in always portraying being happy?

I believe the positivity movement of late has made it not okay to be ‘not okay’. Many people and groups are spreading messages of pure positivity, which work great when someone is in a positive mood/position/disposition. When someone is feeling down for some reason, had something negative happen or similar, these purely positive messages can make the person feel uncomfortable with what they are feeling. They may try to outwardly portray positivity whilst feeling like crap inside, or worse still, really try to suppress the negative emotions that are arising. This is where I think the need for people to claim a higher level of happiness in surveys has stemmed from- their outer reality- when the inner reality is that actually they may be less happy- hence the suicide statistics. The danger of hiding our inner world- our true feelings- is that we may not get the help we need. This may be from our friends, from ourselves, or professionally. In the end this will also increase people choosing to end their lives.


Suppressing negative emotions is actually going to have an effect on your positivity. You cannot have happiness without sorrow. How can you? Happiness is a relative thing. It’s like cold weather to someone in the UK is warm weather to an Inuit. The greater your ability to feel negative emotions, the greater your ability to feel positive ones.

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.” Osho

Of course there are times it is not appropriate to show your inner feelings, such as at work. This does not mean that you are not feeling them, but that you are not outwardly showing them. I am also not saying it is wrong to suppress what you may have. Sometimes they can be so horrific and scary that you cannot do anything other than shun them away. You may not have the inner strength, or believe that you have the strength to face them at that time. That is totally understandable. But rest assured, at some point they will return. They may not come back as the original feelings. For example hurt is often expressed further down the line as anger, which can sometimes result in violence, either physical or mental. In some way the negative feelings WILL arise. For me this is the biggest danger of a lot of the positivity movement. It is too early to say, and very little research has been put into this field, but are we creating a repressed society which at some point will explode?


So why has the movement boomed, with thousands of best-selling books and ‘gurus’? In the West we seem to like to take the easy route and as quickly as possible. I include myself here, as I love to fast-track anything and everything. So the ‘positivity is the answer to everything’ is an easy sell to us. We don’t want to go through the hard work of negative experiences. We want to only experience positive ones, and we want to get there as soon as we can. Well, buy this book and you will achieve this! The whole principal behind it is based on the Law of Attraction, which is something that began in the East and has now risen with Quantum Physics in the West. Like attracts like essentially. This appeals to the Western, get things quick mentality wonderfully- I think a million pounds and therefore I get it? Sadly it isn’t that easy as people eventually find out. Firstly these positive messages do not work in that way. If you are thinking of the positive message, the brain by its very nature thinks of the opposite too. As Osho says, if you think of non-violence you are automatically also thinking of violence. The Eastern teachings around this are actually based around feelings. So it is the FEELINGS that attract like for like. The actual teachings are trying to get you to a state of non-thought, where the Law of Attraction can then actually occur.

Now if I sell you ‘I’m going to make you feel like shit for a while in order for you to possibly feel amazing in the future’, you’re less likely to buy it. It’s a scarier and seemingly longer journey to take. The ‘spiritual path’ is effectively just that- a scary journey through your past emotions which can end in you feeling truly amazing. In the West it isn’t ‘sold’ as that, but by many as ‘a journey where you’ll feel amazing’. Little is said of the ‘dark night of the soul’ or other ‘negative side effects’ of this healing. As a generalisation, I would say for men this is even greater because of our suppressing of emotions.

Many people find it a lot easier to suppress our negative emotions and only portray positive ones to our friends. There is a movement online which is starting to say ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. It’s so important to realise this. How can people help one another if they don’t know that they need help? The first step is admitting to yourself that something is not alright, and then to others. Expressing it factually means you’re not moaning, or being a drag. You are stating what has happened and how it has made you feel. True friends would much rather know that find out later that you suffered in silence. Dealing with things as they occur means you’re not going to have a backlog of emotions to deal with further down the line. And one day you may well choose to confront this backlog and be thankful you had!

So what do we do?

I personally don’t believe in the pursuit of happiness. I believe more in aiming for bliss. In this state of bliss bad things can happen and they could make you feel bad. Instead of blocking it and trying to feel happy, you immerse yourself in that feeling, knowing that a lesson of some sort will arise. When you know this you can be in a negative emotion but still feel bliss because you know there is a positive to come from it. You are looking for what you can learn from the experience. Additionally, the deeper you immerse into the negative emotion, the quicker it will often go. Trying to get on with day to day life often just prolongs in the period it takes to come to terms with something. This is why many societies have a period of mourning after a death- to get deeply into the experience, to allow you to move on freely from it at the end of this period. In the West we often don’t allow this, so it can stay with us for many years.

If you are aiming to take things further, then you can strive for, non-duality, non-attachment and no-thought. This is a constant state of pure awareness or Samadhi in Eastern sacred texts. You are super-tuned into all that is going on, so that you are present with no thoughts at all. A sound occurs, you hear it, but you attach nothing to it. No judgement, no label, literally nothing! The same to everything! It is not good or bad, it is just the event. This is not something that is easy to achieve, won’t happen over night and is damned difficult in the West. Ah. Maybe that’s why it’s not so sellable.

“And once you can see that thoughts are floating- you are not the thoughts but the space in which thoughts are floating- you have attained your self-mind, you have understood the phenomenon of you consciousness. Then discrimination stops; then nothing is good, nothing is bad, then all desire simply disappears, because if there is nothing good, nothing bad, there is nothing to be desired, nothing to be avoided.” Osho

Everything I say here is my own opinion, to give food for thought. I am aware that statistics are misleading- e.g. it’s in the governments benefit to provide statistics showing people are happier- so have only included them as a guide to show that things aren’t really adding up. I am also aware I have given two Osho quotes. I’m am not working on behalf of his family to push his teachings I promise. Both quotes just fitted perfectly (and I bloody love everything he's ever written). I do think this topic is an important conversation to be started and a good area for future research. Hopefully this has given you some balance to go away and make more informed choices, but number one, go with your gut feeling!

I would love your involvement in the conversation, by either letting me know your view or sharing the post with others if you agree.

[1] Accessed 24/01/18
[2] Accessed 24/01/18