Last month, I wrote a post 3 Remarkable Gifts That Help You Flourish in Your 60s, which generated lots of feedback, both online and offline.
While many comments were affirming, there was also some pushback on what was perceived to be an overly optimistic view of life.
There was one comment volley, in particular, that caught my attention. This exchange between two readers spanned several days. Ultimately, it prompted me think hard about what I wrote and the unintended consequences this post might be having on others.
Could there be a downside to positivity? Could we be overestimating the power of mindset and positive thinking?
Happily, within this same comment thread were a few gems that opened up this writer’s eyes to new perspectives on positivity.
Balancing the Full Spectrum of Emotions
Susan David, PhD, is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, co-founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital and CEO of Evidence Based Psychology.
In her best-selling book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, she helps us to explore how we navigate the myriad of thoughts and emotions that shape our lives.
David describes emotional agility as a “process that enables us to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind.”
She also warns us that today’s culture tips heavily in favor of happiness and positivity, but this could be having a negative impact, making us less resilient.
In a Washington Post article, which was shared in the comment thread I mentioned earlier, David goes on to say:
“Emotions like sadness, guilt, grief and anger are beacons for our values. We don’t get angry about stuff we don’t care about. We don’t feel sad or guilty about stuff we don’t care about. If we push these emotions away, we’re choosing not to learn about ourselves. We are choosing to ignore our values and what is important to us.”
I must admit – I tend to push back negative feelings quickly and charge ahead. But left unexamined, these negative feelings sometimes bubble up later and in messier ways.
In her book, David outlines four essential movements to gain emotional agility:
- Showing Up – facing your thoughts, emotions and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness.
- Stepping Out – a mindfulness practice where we create space between ourselves and our emotions.
- Walking Your Why – identifying beliefs and behaviors that matter, and taking action.
- Moving On – cultivating more effective habits that are aligned with our core values and goals.
Could Social Media Be Feeding the Positivity Machine?
For me, Facebook is a double-edged sword. It’s a nice way to keep up with family and friends who don’t live nearby, but there’s some questionable activity there, too.
It’s this digital looking glass into the world, but what’s shared there doesn’t always sync with reality. On occasion, I’ve spotted what might be described as fake positivity.
Case in point: A group of friends were gathering for a fun weekend. Unfortunately, I had a schedule conflict and had to miss this reunion. As I scanned Facebook, all I saw were pictures of happy people. Truth be told, the FOMO (fear of missing out) I dismissed earlier was soon replaced by ROMO (regret over missing out).
Later, when I caught up with a few who attended, a different picture emerged. As it turns out, there were quite a few emotionally-charged exchanges that weekend. One friend confided that she wished she’d skipped this reunion.
Keep in mind, Facebook is like a photo album. You don’t share pictures that aren’t flattering – but social media can conjure up false perceptions that everyone’s living a charmed and bliss-filled life.
Studies also show that excessive social media use can lead to low self-esteem, loneliness and even depression. Again, things aren’t always as rosy as they seem on social media.
Mindset Still Matters
I just crossed the age 60 threshold a few months ago. While the three gifts I laid claim to in that previous post continue to make this decade more enjoyable, every day isn’t a bed of roses, either.
While relentless positivity isn’t advised, a positive mindset will take you far. For me, I’ll always tip in favor of positivity, but appreciate how feedback from others enlightened me.
I’ll wrap up with something a wise boss once shared with me years ago and it still rings true today: “You can visit Pity City, but you can’t live there.”
How about you? Do you see a downside to positivity? What tips can you share to help us better balance the full spectrum of emotions?
Adapted from a post written for SixtyandMe. ©2018