It’s been years since I grew tomatoes and, as I don’t have a greenhouse, I am at the mercy of the vagaries of an English summer. Whilst overjoyed at the number of fruits on my little clutch of plants I admit some considerable disappointment at the mountain of little green orbs that, even with a brief sting of summer sunshine this week, will never ripen however much I try and think positive and tell myself “at least I tried” or “better luck next year”.
Away from the garden and in the depth of emotional darkness positive thinking is an unattainable luxury. How does one see the positive when everything is black? It is rarely possible to see anything while held firmly in the desperate hold of depression, anxiety, heartbreak. Even deep disappointment can render redundant the ability to find enough blue sky to run up a pair of sailors trousers. Thinking positive is nonsense isn’t it?
The trouble with positive thinking is that it is an intellectual and cognitive action rather than one we engage in with our heart. Isn’t positive thinking often just blind optimism which, in the long run, might cause more harm than good?
“If life gives you lemons make lemonade” goes the saying but if I don’t want lemonade I am screwed and no amount of positive thinking about the quality of my lemonade will change that fact. Instead, maybe I would be better to consider all the other options I have that don’t involve making, drinking or enjoying lemonade. Maybe some gratitude for what I do have is more valuable than forcing good thoughts through the eye of a particularly small needle.
Thinking is most of the problem because, on balance, we probably do too much of it. Positive or otherwise there are times when it’s necessary just to get on and do something rather than bemoan all that has gone wrong and try to contort it into something which has really gone right. When a relationship breaks down it hurts like hell and no amount of well intentioned friends telling you that “it wasn’t right anyway” and “you’ll be happier in the long run” will change that fact. Mostly you feel like punching them in the face for their, well intentioned but, smug and hopeless advice.
This brings to mind another related drawback with positive thinking, that our positive thoughts are frequently given to us by other people because it’s much easier for someone else to see the positive in a bad situation that they aren’t living through. It’s easy to be emotionally resilient on someone else’s behalf but it’s pointless. Sometimes others will laden us with their own positive take on the situation because they feel uncomfortable with our pain and they want to get rid of it for both of our sakes. This is not being a “friend” because being a a friend means standing straight and strong however bleak it gets without trying to change what cannot be changed. When you feel as if everything is crumbling around your ears and that there is no safe ground on which to stand the thing you most need is a bit of normality, something predictable and reliable, something which is real and, when we are emotionally strung out, positive thinking rarely feels like that at all.
We resort to positive thinking when we don’t want to look at what the root of our negative thoughts are which is like papering over a crack in the wall hoping nobody will notice. Positive thinking used in this way is a distraction, an attempt to tell ourselves everything is fine when we feel that it most certainly isn’t. The acknowledgement of negatives, downsides, disappointments and sadness can actually reduce anxiety rather than increase it. Pretending stuff won’t go or hasn’t already gone wrong won’t help, but facing it and believing in our ability to deal with it does.
So the problem with positive thinking is that it is a snapshot, a moment in time rather than a consistent and deliberate building of positive consciousness, a noticing of that which is good on a constant daily basis. Achieving a balanced and more positive state of mind requires that we remain aware of all that is good for railing against the pain when the inevitable disappointments arrive. It is undoubtedly in our seeing the upside that we can be much surer of resisting the power of the downside and, seen in this way, positive thinking is an emotional sticking plaster we don’t need, because we manage to bring our fundamental level of happiness up from where it was to a place of greater emotional resilience. This is the challenge we face and must accept in making our lives settled and balanced.
Intent on seeing myself as a generally upbeat and positive guy I asked my daughter to strip the plants of the annoyingly green fruits and then I painstakingly cut them up and made them into a stingingly hot chutney. In the depths of winter when the disappointment of my tomato crop is long forgotten I’ll be enjoying the first tomatoes I grew in years with a bit of crusty bread and cheese and that, my friends, is making the best of the beauty in this world, and it has nothing at all to do with positive thinking.