Positive Psychology:
How To Be Realistic About "Staying Positive"

For most of us, the new year ushers in a decision to be happy and to be positive. The current cultural emphasis is on positive psychology - a new and important approach. Studies from this field emphasise strengths instead of weaknesses.

But the common paradigm of "happiness is a choice" and "stay positive" sometimes causes more emotional harm than good. In pursuit of "positive vibes", many people can experience shame for being human. We deny the important outcomes of painful and negative experiences.


A loose interpretation of positive psychology: it emphasises a dualistic mentality (that we must be one way or the other).

This is a false portrayal of the field of study.

In fact, positive psychology does not deny the conditions which cause pain and suffering. Instead, positive psychology claims the need to acknowledge both sides of our human experience. And that we need to study and embrace the other side.

While you are doing your best to stay positive and to make lemonade out of the lemons life is throwing your way, keep the following points in mind.

1. Tough times can bring people closer together and unveil our unknown strengths.

Illness, death and tragedy opens us to relationships and affections we do not experience otherwise. During such times, we get introduced to the depth of our inner resources - something not likely to happen when we experience pure bliss day in and day out. Sometimes the darkest moments in life clears things up and gives us perspective.

2. Accept that "life is life"

You will experience disappointment and suffering - EVERYONE will! 

Whether your relationship ends, whether you miss the promotion you wanted, or whether a family member dies, grieving is real and necessary. Allow these feelings to move through you so you can recover and not stay stuck. 

3. When the need arises, let it loose!

No, this tip is not about number one and two. Don't force yourself to "be positive" when you need to let your emotions out. This can make your predicament worse. Be angry, sad, and cry when necessary. We are capable of many, many emotions and we need every single one of them.

The trick is not trying to avoid negative emotions. It is not allowing yourself to get caught up in them. When you experience an emotion; acknowledge, listen, and act upon it.

When we ignore or obsess over emotions, destruction follows. But when we listen to what the emotions are telling us, we can make positive changes when necessary.

4. Appreciate the value of perspective

Things that appear dreadful right now can be valuable someday. We learn wisdom, insight, compassion and gratitude not from the best of moments, but from the worst of experiences. Once we move through loss and disappointment, we are in a unique position to stand back and see life in perspective. 

Don't adopt an "it's all good" attitude - because "all" is not good! Such thinking inhibits our abilities to listen to our emotions and take action. It keeps us in "limbo" and doesn't allow us to experience personal development.