Not gonna lie: I’m not always the most positive person. Sometimes I want to be spreading nothing but positivity, but sometimes my actual vibes just won’t allow it. I’m a person who regularly retreats to myself when the going gets tough, only seeking refuge or escape on my Instagram or Twitter feed, which typically matches my moods on bad days: indifferent, dark, melancholy, or just downright terrible. Don’t get me wrong! I have the highest highs — strings of carefree days that go smoothly (not perfectly, but not total train wrecks either), and weeks of just plugging along, surviving despite the impending doom of, well, everything. These times are the most awesome and my most cherished. A bitch loves being happy.
In my current season, I’m witnessing a push to take permanent residence in these waves of positivity. “Positive Vibes Only” can be seen on every other social media bio, caption, or hipster tee. It’s a movement set on dispelling all things bad and drawing in all the good. Drama-free. Manifesting the highest good. Affirming your desired state of being…
And I kinda think it’s all bullshit.
Let me pause to say that I believe in the power of positive affirmations! As a person that battles negative self-talk, having a pocket full of positive mantras can be really helpful in lifting my mood and focus on especially tough days. But I’m not constantly in a positive space, and I invite the idea/concept that the occasional “negative” vibe is OKAY. The expectation of maintaining constant cool and smiling from within at every given moment is denying people the right to a full spectrum of some very valid emotions.
So, where’s the reasonable balance for someone who wants to keep a positive outlook but not repress any righteous rage in the face of all of life’s wrongs?
Firstly, be rational and realistic.
We need to dead the notion that we attract bad outcomes to ourselves — especially when the outcomes are the result of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, and the like. I really ignore all of the positivity pushers that fail to acknowledge the existence of oppressions, or worse, pretend they’re all fashioned exclusively in the mind of the individual giving voice to the ways oppression makes life suck. These systems don’t and won’t bend to our mantras or our efforts to ignore their impacts. While a positive outlook may make us feel better in response to injustice, it does nothing to change material realities and it’s dishonest to assert that “positivity” is any type of solution. Choosing not to smile through being wronged is a valid response.
Secondly, understand that anger and sadness are not “bad” or negative emotions.
They exist on a wide spectrum of emotions that are necessary and available to all of us. The false dichotomy of good and bad with regard to actual emotions suppresses our ability to live fully and authentically and reduces the likelihood that we are dealing with our moods well at all. Focusing on our conscious or subconscious reactions to feelings of rage or despair will have better yields than scaling the impossible mountain of “be positive all the time.” How do you treat others when you feel rage? How do you treat yourself when you are sad? The emotion itself isn’t problematic but the response to it may be if it harms someone undeserving (yourself included). Leave room to sit with all of your emotions without sorting them as good or bad and decide for yourself what the appropriate reaction looks like.
Lastly, replace your desire for fleeting notions of positivity with a fervent hunt for joy.
Seek out the things that bring you bliss. Though the barriers are many, I hope we have time, space, and resources we need to be in touch with the things that make us smile in our hearts. For me, it’s wine or a good book. Or doing nothing! Knowing your dog is at home waiting for you isn’t going to make the microaggressions you encounter at work more bearable or disappear, but it does give you something to look forward to. It’s possible with help (medicine, therapy, support systems, etc.) and practice to acknowledge the things that flat out SUCK, and still find things that make you happy. In fact, I think it’s necessary to surviving this place. No one will be happy all of the time. Finding the things that make you happy can help to ensure you experience some joy in your life. You deserve, boo.
In all, there’s nothing wrong with trying to find the silver lining in every twist and turn of your personal story. I admire the dedication of those seeking to be their highest, most positive self as much as possible. But sometimes this position and rhetoric around it crosses the line into being not only unrealistic and inauthentic, but in being ableist and unhealthy as well. “Positive Vibes Only” is an uninspiring altar call for swindlers and robots, and I think it’s best for folks to unsubscribe. You can be conscious of the energy you expend (maybe a Facebook live rant isn’t good energy use) but you’re allowed to feel. Take up journaling. Cry. Call a friend that has the capacity to listen and be compassionate in that moment. Do some CRYING. Take a long walk. Find somewhere to scream. C R Y. Just know you don’t have to be positive in the face of all the negativity that abounds, and I support the right to access every single emotion.
Keep being human.
Cover Image: Allie Smith