Positive Attitude Gets a Bad Rap

I ran across a blog post of a woman questioning the feasibility of a positive outlook while going through hard or tragic times.

We are often sold a load of newborn diaper doo when it comes to attitude and reality and how one affects the other. The whole Oprah induced “secret” frenzy set the lucky ducks to head nodding like bobble heads in the rear window of a Pinto and made everyone else feel like a colossal failure at best and cursed by the gods at worst.

There is no reason NOT to attempt a positive outlook in the face of disasters, but reality is reality. Sometimes it will bite your head off if you let your vision cloud over in rosy hues.

A positive attitude can concede points to a dismal reality and still be a useful, worthwhile exercise that will certainly take a person farther than pessimism, anger, blame, defeatism and any other favorite shoulder shrugging, curling into a fetal position posture a person might favor in bleak times.

I went with positive in my own situation with the whole dying husband thing. He’d lost his job due to his illness right before we moved into a larger home with its bigger matching mortgage. I made up my mind early that coming out on the other side and being happy (that being relative) was where I had to focus, or I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every morning.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t complain or despair or stomp my feet. I would sometimes no sooner solve a dilemma – like needing a daycare for my blind, demented 29-year-old husband – when I was confronted with another problem, but I took things as they came, played it where it laid and tried to focus on the long-term whenever I could. It’s not a perfect plan and I employed it imperfectly just as often as I hit the ball out of the park.

What I think is meant by maintaining a positive outlook during hard times is to just try to balance one’s outlook to mostly err on the side of “everything’s eventually going to be okay”. It does not mean ignoring issues or denying that sometimes it’s hard to be upbeat when the world is raining steadily on your parade while everyone around you seems to be walking on sunshine while draped in rainbows. Being sad, upset, and angry happens. It’s better to admit to and feel these things than stuff them away because they won’t stay where they are stuffed no matter how clever a packer you are. But it does no good to wallow in the negative and allow setbacks and tragedy to define your life or person.

Can you be positive in hard times?

Yes, you can within moderation but isn’t that true of all things?

14 thoughts on “Positive Attitude Gets a Bad Rap

  1. People sometimes praise me for being “so positive,” and I laugh to myself, because it’s mostly B.S. I’ve worked in marketing, advertising and PR for nearly thirteen years, and I wouldn’t be worth my paycheck if I didn’t know how to put on a good spin. In truth, I’m neither an optimist or a pessimist, but a realist – I acknowledge both the good and the bad in my life, and then I do what I can to increase the former and decrease the latter. I think that’s all anyone can do.

  2. I believe heartily in trying to find the positive, but for me it was very much something I had to teach myself. My quick back story- husband got kicked out of the military, found a good job, quit good job, I found out I was pregnant a week later, he went through 3 more jobs before becoming psychotic and attempting to kill me @ 4mo pregnant, I left him, and of course we had just bought a house… we’re divorced now and he’s institutionalized. So… that said, a lot of the time it was one day at a time, and it was incredibly hard to be positive. What worked for me was being neutral. Taking the attitude that this is how it is, this is how it will be, I can’t change a lot of it, so deal with it and life goes on- that’s what got me through it. Now I’m in a place where I can see more positive things, but I think there’s value in just not being negative, even if that doesn’t necessarily equal positive.

  3. Annie, thank you for your reply, it has really helped me, and it’s so nice to read positive things from someone as far out as you. (In widowhood, I just reread that and it sounds funny.)

    You really are an inspiration, I’m glad I found your blog. Thank you again for taking the time to help.

  4. At the risk of committing sacrilege, I’ve also read that people can put too much faith in…well…faith. Prayer can get you through tough times. It certainly helped my mother when she was gravely ill. But it can blind you to the reality of a situation and fill you with unattainable wants.

    1. Prayer can get a person through rough times, but I am reminded of the saying “God helps those who help themselves”. part of helping yourself is being realistic about how much either prayer or our own efforts can achieve.

  5. I’m newly widowed (found your blog via the YWBB board) and definitely have days I can’t feel positive no matter what I try to tell myself. I guess that’s normal, and I have to wade through them. I have a few days here and there of, ok, I’m not letting this grief rule me anymore, and I can actually see a light. Dim, but there. And the rest of the days, kind of numb.

    I read from widows further out and it really scares me. I’m talking anywhere from 1-7 yrs out, their grief seems almost as raw as mine. I do not want to end up that way, and my husband would kick my butt if I did. But how do we know we won’t? What if how I’m doing now (6 mos out) is just the calm before the storm?

    Why do some seem to be able to move forward, and others seem very stuck in the grief? I’m so afraid that I’m going to get hit later.

    1. I’m sorry for your loss. Six months is not the best place to base an assessment of where you will be at a year or a year from now. One step forward and two back is normal at any time within the first year or so and it’s my experience that things get better over time.

      I would say that many of the “older” widows on the board don’t post, or even read, much as they get farther out unless something has triggered their grief. Because the sense of loss, and the sadness doesn’t go away – it just lessens and becomes easier to manage. At four years myself, I don’t really get knocked down by memories or anniversaries. I note them and sometimes I need a time out to let myself feel the day or memory, but it doesn’t floor me. Most of the older board members are the same. They post on the odd occasions or when new transitions in their lives cause them to reflect back. Those who seem “stuck”? Well, I don’t think being widowed changes as a people much. If you were a survivor or could cope well with adversity before – you still can and those who couldn’t, probably still don’t. Those who were normally positive continue to be so and those who weren’t, aren’t still.

      Try not to worry. You say you don’t want to be stuck. That your husband wouldn’t have wanted that. And to me, that says that you will be okay. There is no secret storm out ahead waiting for you. Grief is not a monster who will jump you just when you think you are okay. That’s melodrama speaking. Some people were good at that before they were widowed and continue to excel at the skill. There will be ups and downs and adjustments just like with any other event that radically alters your life. Trust yourself.

  6. what chaps my tailbone about the ‘positive’ outlook mentality is that it puts perhaps far too much responsibility on the individual. if things DON’T get better? well, by god, you simply weren’t positive enough.

    my father faced terminal cancer with a realistic and practical point of view, and was generally polite when family members chided him about “keeping a positive attitude”. one day he finally shut them up with “OK. I’m positive I’m going to die.”

  7. It’s nice to hear someone who has faced tragedy say these things. I’ve been choked with platitudes and well-meaning stupidity over the last 8 years as I’ve faced serious adversity, and yes, being positive when one can makes for a better existence than moping groaning and complaining.

    Sometimes, we need to mope, groan and complain though, and having a positive outlook doesn’t mean not seeing the forest for the trees.

    Well said, Annie. Thanks.

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