Up to now I’ve had no problem writing and sharing both my positive achievements and my thoughts on positive thinking and how it can help, not just me but, in theory, anyone, to achieve a range of things from a greater sense of well-being to reduced stress, better focus on your goals, acceptance of who you are and what your limitations are, working to your strengths rather than fretting over your weaknesses, etc. etc.
However, two things have made me stop in my tracks and re-consider the wisdom, not of thinking and believing these thoughts, but of sharing them with the world – particularly posts or status updates like memes or inspirational quotes which, rather than being personal reflection, could be taken as some kind of self-help guidance to others.
Having recently read The Pursuit of Happiness (and why it’s making us anxious) by Ruth Whippman I can see exactly where the author is coming from in her insights about the way in which the ‘happiness industry’ places enormous onus on the individual to take responsibility for their level of contentment – almost entirely dismissing external circumstance.
I am troubled by Whippman’s take on the idea perpetuated by the pseudo-scientific ‘positive psychology’ gurus that circumstance is almost irrelevant to our level of happiness. The more one argues that we have this immense psychological power to transcend any situation or circumstance we might find ourselves in, the easier it is to succumb to victim blaming and the easier for the powerful, rich, right wing elite to salve their conscience towards those living below the poverty line without ever having to consider the re-distribution of wealth or the necessity of a welfare state.
Don’t have enough money to feed your children today? Doesn’t matter! Filling in your ‘gratitude journal’ will make you feel better even if the only thing you have to feel grateful for is the fact that you haven’t yet gone into rent arrears and been kicked out of your home!
OK, that is a little extreme but we all have our hard times – grief, loneliness, loss – and that leads me on to the second thing that has got me thinking about this subject.
I recently spent some time with a good friend who suffers from depression and she mentioned a status that I had pasted to facebook a couple of days before:
“It occurred to me earlier today that life can quite easily start to feel stressful, and it’s so easy to think that you can’t cope sometimes, but ultimately we choose to let ourselves become stressed – if it’s within your control to change something, then take control; if it’s outside your control don’t waste your energy letting it get to you. That’s where I’m at right now”.
She told me that she had experienced a small internal battle with herself in deciding whether or not to comment because she didn’t want to be the voice of negativity but she had felt that the statement was a little ‘glib’ and didn’t take into account the situation of, not only those who suffer from clinical depression, but also those who may be in the thick of some sort of life crisis.
I totally understand what she means as well and the last thing I would want is for the words I wrote, primarily to boost myself up, to contribute to someone else feeling even worse about themselves and their situation. I know it’s not as easy as I made it sound and that people go through weeks, if not months of cognitive behavioural therapy to get to this point, and that’s just the people who start off from the premise that this kind of brain training is even possible.
The problem with social media is that we do tend to post things that will specifically make *us* happy with no thought about how our messages might make others feel.
For my part, I genuinely believe that a positive mental attitude, optimistic outlook and just stopping myself and pulling back in an attempt to see the wood for the trees makes a difference to *me*.
I am also mindful that glib ‘happiness project’ type statements – made as if they are statements of fact – might well play into the hidden agenda of nefarious right wing interests (or maybe I’m just becoming a paranoid conspiracy theorist).
I’d love to know what other peoples’ take is on this sticky subject – how do you say what you want or need to say to the world without treading on somebody’s toes? Or is there just no point worrying about it because you can’t please all of the people all of the time?