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How to Manage the Pressure to Be Positive

Being honest about what’s hard for you will help you be authentic when you are genuinely joyful.

Resist pressure to be positive
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Especially because you are a Guideposts reader, I suspect that you, like me, are working each day to bring positive thinking into your decisions, outlook and behaviors. But if you are a regular reader of my blog “A Positive Path,” you also know that I believe in and advocate for what I call “authentic positivity,” the kind of optimism that is only helpful when it’s honest. 

During stressful times such as these, there can be pressure to be positive. This can be subtle, as in reminding yourself or someone else, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or it can be downright toxic, as in, “maybe if you smiled more, things would get better for you.” Whatever its source, positivity under pressure is draining, not uplifting. How could it be otherwise when it’s only optimism on others’ terms?

Grown-up people understand that two feelings can exist at the same time—you can feel frustrated, disappointed, worried or sad AND hopeful, compassionate, content or positive. It can be an act of courage to respond to social pressures to be all-positivity-all-the-time by reminding friends or family members (or writers) of this.

Instead of focusing too much on external pressures, turn to these three questions to help you reinforce your positive lifestyle from the inside. 

1)  Am I Thinking Helpfully?
Rather than requiring every thought to be positive, ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful. Often, negative or self-defeating thoughts can dissipate when you give yourself a moment to notice them and then conclude, “this thought is not helpful to me.” 

The psychologist Brooke Wachtler says, “Helpful thoughts (aka Rational Beliefs) lead to helpful emotional responses because these types of thoughts are flexible, logical and consistent with reality.”

2)  Am I Demanding or Preferring?
Demanding positivity, perfection or unadulterated joy from yourself or others is a losing game. Among the many reasons why—it’s exhausting, not to mention fruitless. Try to encourage your self-talk in the direction of what you “prefer” rather than what you “should,” “need to” or “can’t” do or handle. 

Wachtler cites the example of missing a work deadline. Rather than thinking “I should never miss deadlines,” try, “I wish I didn’t miss this deadline, but I did. What do I need to change to make sure I make the next one?” According to Wachtler, “This type of thinking acknowledges the reality of the situation, while also refraining from forcing yourself to feel positively about a work mistake or trying to sugar coat what happened.”

3)  Am I Prepared to Respond to Positivity Pressure?
Take a moment to think about times in your day when you regularly encounter the pressure to be positive. At work? At the dinner table? On social media? Practice recognizing positivity pressure when you see it, so that next time it crosses your path, you are prepared to respond in a way that protects your inner authentically positive outlook. 

One option is to ignore that “keep smiling, it’s all going to work out great!” post on your social media without reinforcing it with a “like.” Another choice is to gently deflect with humor, like “darn, I seem to have misplaced my magic happiness wand today, maybe I’ll find it tomorrow!” If you feel the pressure mounting too much, you can always make time for a chat about how that friend or family member is making you feel.

How do you handle the pressure to be positive all the time?

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