Being Positive Is A Skill
The positive outlook we need to sustain life is something we must learn from someone else.
I am an optimist. I’ve been a conscious optimist for much of my life. For much of my early life, I’ve been an unwitting optimist. I didn’t know I was being an optimist just for planning into the future. For thinking that there might be a tomorrow, another day.
I’ve tried being a pessimist, really, I have. With pessimism, it’s too easy to get mired in predictions, and I’ve found that I’m not very good at making predictions. And those predictions, those really negative predictions, cost me opportunities. That’s another reason why I’m an optimist.
Someone told me long ago that he keeps his expectations low so that he’s not disappointed. Then if things go well, that’s a bonus. I suppose that’s one way to be an optimist. I do that myself. I keep my expectations low, not to avoid disappointment, but to make it easier for me to see opportunities.
Many months ago, someone said this in an article he wrote:
Sometimes the whole “positivity” train has run its course, and the prize to be claimed lies in accepting the “negative.”
That was a great observation about how hard it can be to stay positive. But I don’t believe that being positive comes at the cost of accepting the negative. I think acceptance is required in order to be happy. So even if things are not all that great, with acceptance, we can still find a reason to be happy.
There seems to be a myth floating around that being positive is some gift that we get from someone or something else, and that a positive outlook just falls from the sky for us to use it. I want to dispel that myth. I think it is helpful for people to understand that being positive is a skill. And that skill leads to resilience. From resilience, we find the means to be positive, most if not all the time.
A few words about control
Some of us became pessimists because of a few very powerful experiences at the hands of forces beyond our control. Some of us gave up a positive outlook on life because the hand we were dealt with was just too terrible. But I’ve seen people with terrible disabilities keep on living. The optimists among us take a difficult situation and turn it into a book, a movie or a story to tell on YouTube. I haven’t done all that, but I am blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, and I still find a reason to be positive, to see a reason to live.
A negative outlook on life usually has something to do with the loss of control over our lives and the expectation that we had the capacity to maintain that control. John Lennon figured this problem out early on when he said that, “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” Even he could see that control is an illusion.
The moment we can eliminate any illusion of control, well, that’s the moment when we can and do surrender to those forces that can bring far greater prosperity than our own wits and will are capable of bringing. I have long considered this prospect and have become comfortable with the notion that my tiny little brain is simply no match for the universe.
Long ago, I took improvisation classes on a whim, as a way to get out of isolation, and out of the house. One of the first rules of improvisation is to never say “no” on stage. I kind of live my life like that now. I just go with it, whatever it may be, and with intent to avoid injury or damage to other people or property, to the greatest extent possible. I work hard to err on the side of peace.
I can’t say that I’m rich, but I have prospered from holding this attitude.
Now I’m not all Pollyanna, either. But I recognize that when negatively comes up for me, it is a sign that I lack the skills to cope with the demands of my environment. People tend to go negative when their positive coping skills fail or come up short for the circumstance. When I see people get really negative, I know it’s due to a lack of skills to cope.
Since also I know we don’t have much control over life, one of those skills that I’ve cultivated and nurtured is faith. Now I’m not talking about religious faith. I’m talking about a definition of faith I got from Alan Watts, author of, The Wisdom of Insecurity:
Belief clings where faith lets go.
For a more detailed explanation of that kind of faith, go here. I equate belief with expectations, so I have worked hard to reduce the number of beliefs I must hold to be sane and whatever is left is reserved to faith, a sort of reservation of judgment, a trusting that everything will be OK. So far, it’s been working well for me.
I can’t say if this attitude will work well for others, but my reading over the years has inspired me to share this perspective on the topic of control. I like to frame the topic in the context of skills because, for me, that perspective gives me hope and makes faith — as a reservation of judgment — possible.
Faith is not belief, it is judgment reserved
It is this reservation of judgment that allows me to be positive most of the time. I have tried predicting the future with my beliefs and expectations and I can assure you that the results were not pretty. After so many cuts, bruises, failures and disappointments, I have come to a place where being agnostic is the safest thing I can do.
I am agnostic. Not just about God. I’m agnostic about everything. The less I believe the fewer expectations I have. The fewer expectations I have, the fewer disappointments I suffer. The fewer disappointments I suffer, the happier I am.
All of this leads to resilience. With fewer expectations, I have greater resilience to failure and disappointment. With low to zero expectations, then there is always hope that things will improve. I have been and still am learning how to focus on the possibilities. I look at the people who have greater wealth, happiness and what have you, not with envy, but with hope. Hope that that could be me.
Nothing lasts forever, not even negativity
Resilience trumps negativity every time. Negativity results from an assumption of permanence as if nothing will ever change. Kids are unhappy sometimes because they believe that the conditions that they cannot cope with now are permanent. When kids use the word forever, they really mean it.
Adults often carry this “forever” perspective from childhood, as if they’ve never really resolved the issue that caused them to suffer. With a “forever” attitude, then one begins to believe that “bad things happen to me” and they take life personally. They begin to believe that “bad things happen to me because of me”. And if bad things happen to me because of me, and I’m bad, then there is nothing I can do to change my life. Bad things will continue to happen to me.
But what would happen if we showed kids that happiness and a positive outlook in life is a matter of skill, not identity? What would happen if we showed ourselves as adults, that happiness in life is a matter of skill, not identity? So often we identify with what happens to us and take life personally. This, I think, can be a fatal mistake. Many people commit suicide because they believe that what happened to them is about them.
There is nothing personal about a bad day
Sometimes when we go negative, and we find it really hard to stay positive, we say we are having a bad day. I don’t say that a day was bad. To say that “I had a bad day” is to take the day personally. It is to assume that the day was out to get me and got me. Rather, I say that I had a challenging day.
Once I say that I had a challenging day, there is no judgment about the day, or about me. I can simply say that I lacked the skills to cope with the demands of the day to my own satisfaction. Not somebody else’s satisfaction, mine.
Another reason I hold this perspective is that when I say that someone else was the cause of my bad day, well, I just gave that person a great deal of power. I’d rather keep that power to myself and take responsibility for my part in the day. That means acceptance, and once I have acceptance, I can better decide what to do next because the act of making that decision doesn’t depend on other people. It’s all on me.
At this point, I’m free to ask for help. And most times I do. But since I have not made any judgment about myself, a judgment that could lead to self-inflicted shame, I am free to ask for help. I am free to admit that I need to learn more coping skills.
Everything we do in life requires a skill. The moment that we say that “the gods did not smile upon us”, is the moment that we give up that power of accepting the limits of our will and wits. Now consider the possibility of a life where being positive has more to do with your skills than your identity. If being positive is a skill, then we’re not “bad”. We just lack the skills to be positive or even to be happy.
I would rather find being positive or happy as a skill than dependent upon some supernatural power or other people, places or things. This isn’t to say that I’m the master of my own fate. This is to say that it’s up to me to decide how to respond to what is before me at any given moment in time.
But even if a supernatural power could grant me what I wanted, I would still be free to make a choice to be happy (or just positive) with the gifts I receive. I might even lack the skills to be positive or experience any joy about those gifts. You know, like a girl who spends 20 minutes opening presents on Christmas Day and after unwrapping the last gift says, “Is that it?”
Being positive is a skill, and that kind of skill can lead to happiness. Try it on and see if that works for you.
Originally published on March 24th, 2018, on Steemit. com. Updated for context, grammar, and new ideas that come up with another review.