The topic at a glance
The Difference Between ‘Being Positive’ and Unconditional Positivity
For me, ‘being positive’ was always about trying to manipulate reality into meeting my expectations – e.g. ‘here’s the deal universe, I’ll pretend to be super-positive so long as you keep giving me what I want, but just make sure don’t leave me waiting too long’. Other people may have a more mature relationship with ‘being positive’, but in my experience, it is usually about behaving in a certain way in order to get a specific result.
Unconditional positivity differs from ‘being positive’ in that it doesn’t involve any expectations about the future. It is an attitude that develops as a result of opening up to the world, and it is based on the insight that reality is supportive to life even when it doesn’t behave as we want to.
The Danger of ‘Being Positive’
In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Victor Frankl describes his experience of being an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp. One of his observations was that those prisoners who tried be overly positive (e.g. ‘it’s all been a big mistake, and we will be set free soon) were usually the first to die because they were unable to adjust to the reality of the situation –their expectations were so out of sync with what was happening that it meant they eventually became hopeless.
Victor Frankl believed we humans thrive when we have an authentic relationship with reality. This means we learn to fit in with the universe rather than trying to bend the universe to our will (a battle we can never win).
A few years ago, I lost an important client, and for a while, it looked certain that my ability to financially take care of my family would disappear. I tried my best to be positive – I convinced myself good news was just around the corner, and all I had to do was wait for the next email where a client would be offering me a new project. But as each day came and went, with no sign of anyone coming to save me, it became impossible to ignore the rising panic and what felt like a stone in my stomach.
Being positive brought me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. By ignoring the reality of my situation, I was just suppressing my anxiety, and the tension built up like steam inside a pressure cooker. This meant that I became hopeless and ineffective at a time when I needed to be out hustling for more work. Luckily, I woke up to what was happening before it was too late, but I dread to think what would have happened if I had continued to just ‘be positive’.
How to Practice Unconditional Positivity
Unconditional positivity is all about letting go of our expectations and instead just trusting life. We focus on doing our best in this moment because it is our only real hope of happiness right now and for the future. Unconditional positivity means being authentic because there is no way we can fool reality.
Unconditional positivity is not some type of artificial practice like ‘being positive’ but instead it is a realization – we develop this attitude once we surrender to reality. It is all about waking up to our situation. The Christian mystic Anthony de Mello described ‘unconditional positivity’ beautifully with his words “absolute cooperation with the inevitable”.
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