Positivity: to share or not to share?


different reactions

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?

13 thoughts on “Positivity: to share or not to share?

  1. It certainly is a tricky one Sam and I think the truth is that it doesn’t matter what you say as there is always a chance you will offend someone who has a different life experience to you. Do I not post anything about my kids for fear of offending the childlless? Do working mums not post about enjoying work for fear of offending sahms? I know this is different to talking about mental health but my point is you can’t always censor yourself for fear of upsetting others. It is good to be aware of how others might perceive things differently of course but I don’t think there was anything wrong with what you wrote… It spoke to you and was how tou felt at the time. Sorry I’m rambling you always write thought provoking posts! Xxx
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    • You’re right I think – can’t just never communicate how we’re feeling or share the good bits in case we tread on someone else’s toes. I have been criticised for being too negative at times and then too positive and ‘glib’ at other times so I guess you just can’t really win either way. Xx

  2. Its a double edged sword to be honest. I too suffer from depression and could easily get upset at some things people post about how great life is, especially when i’m having a really bad day, however i try to think of it in a different light.

    Yes it sucks that i’m struggling to get myself dressed join in on life while everyone and their dog seem to find life so easy but on the same hand, i’m so glad that the people i love and wish the best for are enjoying life and good things are happening to them. I try to focus on not letting my dark days murk up anyone elses day.

    • I think this is probably why my friend, after reflection, chose not to add her comment to what was otherwise a very supportive thread. I think on both sides (both the writer and the reader) have to try and think about where each other is coming from and understand what is going on in each other’s lives. To be honest I get really depressed myself sometimes when certain bloggers I follow post yet another amazing update on how fabulous life is going for them – even when they temper it by giving a nod to the (seemingly minor) hard times (into every life, etc.). But I know that it’s my choice to read and follow that person’s journey and if it really gets to me I can just switch them off without them ever needing to know.

  3. Ah, now interesting htis. I generally get myself in trouble on my personal Facebook account by being too candid about political matters…..such as Brexit. I am with your friend as it happens. I very rarely share positive stuff on my Facebook account (and if I blog about it I do it very carefull). There’s one individual I know who posts about ehr daughter’s various achievements and it looks very showy. It may make her feel happy to boast about such things, but it does nothing for anyone else to read about them.. Thanks for hosting #TruthAbout
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    • Mm, I think the ‘boasty’ posts are by the people that really need to be thinking a bit more about who might be out there reading. It’s so difficult though because if my child wins an award at sports day or something and he’s never won anything before does that mean I’m not aloud to share that because it might offend someone else? Admittedly if the person you know is continually doing those posts then, yes, that’s excessive and really flipping annoying! But I think you have to be allowed to have a balance?

  4. It’s a tricky one. I’m a mostly positive person – I will acknowledge that life isn’t all a bed of roses but I choose not to dwell on it because, frankly, why would I want depress myself further about stuff?

    I do find it annoying when some people try *so* hard to portray the perfect life in words and oh-so-neat Instagram photos. For me, there’s a balance somewhere in between. No one likes someone who complains all the time but I do like it when people are honest and just say things how they are.

  5. Such an interesting post! As you know, I read the Ruth Whippman book and the section on positive psychology kind of blew my mind a bit. I totally understood (and was extremely worried by) the notion that putting so much onus on individual mindset ignores the massive impact that circumstance has on happiness and, as such, allows us not to look out for each other as a society as much. I actually thought she came to a realisation that needed further exploration, which was that the power of positive psychology isn’t about happiness it’s about hope. It’s good to think we have the power to feel happy regardless of circumstance – but then I say that from the POV of someone who is essentially very fortunate in life. The book made me consider how all the positive thinking stuff might appear of your life circumstances were dire or you suffered from depression as your friend does. I Mostly share positive stuff on FB but do throw in the odd moment of reality in too for good measure. You’ve made me think about it all over again 🙂 xxx
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    • That’s a really interesting way of looking at it, Maddy – hope, not happiness. I’m actually quite relieved that you said that because I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me and constantly grasping at some kind of happiness that is always just out of reach, but actually, now you’ve put it in perspective – it’s good to be hopeful, have a positive outlook on life, be optimistic. It does impact on how your day goes (for the better).

  6. It’s all so deep and reflective. I post a load of different stuff, just this week I got grief for posting a Penguin jumping on a post, it was un-natural. I suppose if one posts something one has to understand that people will interpret it however they choose depending what’s going on with them. I have stopped posting anything religious as I don’t want to offend all the atheists. I should probably stop posting politics but why should I apologise for being myself on my own wall, when so and so up the road is posting their 50th selfie of the day and so and so round the corner is endlessly posting how brilliant and good looking their beauts, (kids) are?
    It does get on my nerves when people are moaning about not getting time off from their kids when they seem to be getting a lot more than I ever had. If someone is being an arse I think it’s ok to point it out. I try to be honest and find some humour.

    • I saw that comment about the penguin! I thought, blimey what a downer! OK fair enough, humans making animals (almost literally) jump through hoops is actually not that great, but I just can’t stand it when people take what was thrown out on Facebook as a *feelgood* snippet of something and throw a bit of misery at it – by all means DM the person or maybe even just mention how you felt when you next see them (like my friend did with me) and let it lie on the social media. By having that conversation with my friend face to face I got a much greater empathy for her point of view and at the same time she gave me the grace of having my positive statement left as just that. I definitely don’t do religion or politics on Facebook! Xx

  7. Gosh this made me think Sam. I think I post things like that because they help me and I hope that they might help someone else too. Undoubtedly they will not strike a chord with everyone but surely someone? I do believe that we have a choice to make in how we react to things. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to feel emotions and be sad or happy when circumstances drive us to feel that way, but we can choose whether to let things get to us long-term or not. The difference however, is when we are ill with depression, anxiety or any mental illness – that is not a choice and by saying that to someone who is suffering is an insult for sure. In my current situation, I know that by dwelling on all the negatives I can get very down. By trying to focus on the things that are positive in our situation (there are always some) I end up feeling infinitely better all round.
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