Inspired living

Living positively — does negativity have a place in our thoughts?

Tracey Postively

Words by Tracey Dwyer.

We all want to live positively, but what exactly does that mean? And does negativity have a place?

Exploring the vast topic of living positively calls on us to explore our thinking and the emotions and stories that we create.

Our thinking is the mastermind behind our activity. Over the years, I have read and listened to many thought leaders teach the power of positive thinking and its necessity for a life of healthy wellbeing. But does that mean we should never experience negative emotion? Are we supposed to push that aside and only experience the positive?

Positive thinking is powerful. It can be described as the tendency to focus on the bright side, expect positive results and approach challenges with a positive outlook, making the best out of any situation you find yourself in.

Positive thinking and living includes being optimistic, showing gratitude, having resilience to challenges and recovering from setbacks, focusing on the good, creating positive energy, bringing a smile to the occasion and practising mindfulness. These are just a few of many examples of positive thinking that research tells us contributes to subjective feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

Interestingly, though, is the perception of positive thinking as being “happy” and “smiley” all the time. Positive thinking has faced much criticism due to this misbelief.

In recent times, teachers of positive psychology have begun to combat this idea by educating the community around the importance of experiencing all of our emotions. There is more harm done to us than good if we embrace the positive but deny the negative.

Negative emotions are healthy for us in perspective when they serve to warn us, help us manage risk, feel sadness and grief, slow our thinking so we can make more balanced decisions and notice the wrong. To ignore, deny or block negative thoughts and emotions is to create potential stress and illness to ourselves and minimise our emotional growth.

So how do we achieve positive living if we need both positive and negative thinking and feelings? Perhaps it’s more about being emotionally balanced, emotionally educated and emotionally fit than it is about being “positive” all the time.

Every day we have thousands and thousands and thousands of internal thoughts, emotions, stories and experiences … Emotional agility is a skill set that builds on our ability to face our emotions, label them, understand them and then choose to move forward deliberately. It is the ability to recognise when you’re feeling stressed, be able to step out of your stress, and then decide how to act.

Susan David, professor and psychologist, Harvard Medical School

Does this make living positively more about the lens through which we view the world than thinking only one kind of thought? And, with that in mind, is it safer to look through a lens of optimism or pessimism? Positivity or negativity?

If we were to look at the world through a lens of pessimism, perhaps we would find more sadness, grief and physical and mental illness, and therefore shorter lifespans. A shadow would be cast upon our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Certainly, this is what the research suggests. But if we view the world through a lens of optimism, we are setting ourselves up to see, learn and balance all. Optimism opens the window to develop the emotional fitness and mindset that enables our strengths to play and protect — to get creative, make judgements, discern and problem-solve.

To view the world through an optimistic lens means we are allowing ourselves to realise our potential as strong, resilient beings and to develop the emotional fitness to manage both the positive and the negative. So let’s take the optimistic lens and learn to let it breathe and move, to bend when we need to and to tilt the frame when we need to get another angle. A pessimistic lens has no flexibility to allow that.

I would love to conclude this article with a quote that sums this topic up beautifully.

What we want is not blind optimism but flexible optimism — optimism with its eyes open. We must be able to use pessimism’s keen sense of reality when we need it, but without dwelling in its dark shadow.”

Dr Martin E. Seligman, Positive Psychology Center

For further reading on positive living, visit positivepsychology.com where you will find an abundance of science-based literature to deep dive further into this fascinating subject.


Tracey Dwyer is a business development manager for Wellbeing Media and a credentialed mindset performance coach, helping people learn to develop their minds and strengths to live in to their potential.

Illustrations: Getty Images