The Devil’s Advice: A Proper Definition of Positivity

woman using umbrella with lights

While some humans argue that it’s not even a word, the term Positivity attracts considerable attention in the English-speaking world and other planes of existence. It is however an essential part of the pursuit of happiness.

People swear by it. They invoke its power whenever the topics of personal-development and mental health come up in conversation. 

The Devil Unbound: A definition of positivity
Positivity

“Be positive,” they say. “Practise positivity,” people exclaim to those they attempt to help. And these efforts at lifting another human up from the pits of emotional turmoil are often noble, but like most good intentions, these attempts can have unfavourable effects. 

And the problem is the misunderstanding of a term that seems to garner so much recognition. People recognise what it means on the surface, sometimes, but misrepresent it more often than not. 

What Positivity is not

The term seems to imply constant satisfaction with life’s events to some people. Many ascribe a mystical quality to it that allows those observing it to be happy all the time. 

Positivity is not about endless joy or permanent comfort – that is impossible – especially in a complex society. 

To be happy all the time, to react with glee to everything that happens to you implies that either only good things happen to you or that you are unphased by suffering and loss. If the former describes your circumstances, consider yourself lucky, most people discover suffering early on in life. And if the former is more your thing and you can celebrate your dog’s death with laughter and applause, you have more significant problems than a simple word’s definition. 

The Problem

Now, these misapprehensions are the direct result of the somewhat modern positive psychology movement, which in efforts to disseminate conventional advice, has afforded the world an endless list of recipes for emotional disaster and personal failure. 

The Problem with positive psychology
Positive Psychology Problems

Incomplete advice passes for wisdom in today’s super-connected world. 

Business gurus like Gary Vee continue to tell young people that they shouldn’t care about other people’s opinions. It should be said that you need not care too much about everyone’s estimation of your character. Still, there are many whose judgement you should recognise as necessary, mainly because they know more than you do about a given topic. This point is, after all, why I do advise that you listen to Gary’s opinion on business – he knows a bit about making money. 

The coaching industry is rife with insufficient, inadequate guidance. Who hasn’t read or heard the suggestion to just try and not care about failure? 

This dangerous romanticisation of mediocrity carries an implicit and fatal message: failure is a viable option without a scale to measure effort.

No! Failure is not acceptable without maximum effort and resolution. 

Oh, and the word try. I shall tell you one day how I use that word to manipulate human self-perception. 

Nevertheless, I digress.

What Positivity is 

Positivity, then, is about resilience. The ability to be positive, as the term implies, is about understanding that bad things can and will happen. The point is to prepare yourself for negative events and their consequences.  

Suffering is inevitable. It is ubiquitous in human experience, like my friend The Buddha told you once. Death, disease, old age, and, therefore loss, are inherent in all biological systems. 

And here, you only see the loss of life that might bring about suffering. Think about the absence of other things that might reveal your circumstances as imbalanced. 

Positivity is about preparing yourself for the inevitabilities of human existence and thriving despite their negative consequences. 

Positivity is about character and the willingness to break through the limitations of your common expectations. It is a contract with yourself stipulating that you can be stronger and better tomorrow than you are today. 

— The Devil Unbound

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