By Julia Amting
“Just be positive.”
A phrase that litters social media, quotes, self-help books, and classrooms. A phrase we have heard since we were little. But what does it truly mean to “be positive”?
The generally known meaning of this phrase is looking at the glass half-full, looking on the bright side, and finding the good within the bad. Finding reasons to be happy when there are plenty of reasons to be sad.
I strongly believe in the power of positivity. There are great things that can and have been accomplished by looking at a challenge or a tough situation and seeing what could go right, instead of what could go wrong. By believing the best in people when they and your past give you ample reasons to believe the worst, and by seeing the blessings in the worst of circumstances, knowing that hardships produce growth and encourage perseverance. My soul leaps when I find someone who can see the beauty of life amidst struggles, those people who inspire your peace of heart and by their lives encourage me to lighten up, and show me that there’s more to life than my own struggles. Those souls are beautiful, and their presence is refreshing.
I also strongly believe that by fully and completely adopting this attitude that we consciously or subconsciously tend to make positivity a sort of religion, and a way of avoiding our problems. (Just hear me out, okay?)
Sometimes we think we can fix everything with a positive attitude, and this is simply untrue. Under the “whatever happens, just be positive” philosophy, we can’t be honest with ourselves about our problems and our messes, because sometimes that comes with feelings of anger, frustration, envy, sadness, and bitterness. We cover up our pain with positivity. When we cease to be honest with ourselves, we cease to know who we are and what we’re about. We become disappointed in ourselves when we can’t muster up be positivity, thinking that we’re not trying hard enough.
By “just being positive”, we try to create our own happiness. We allow problems and emotions to bubble up inside of us and are not dealing with them in healthy ways because negative emotions do not belong in our positive mind-utopia that we want to create for ourselves.
God never commanded, “Thou shalt be positive and happy all the time.”
Think about that.
The things that bother us, that hurt us, that cause us to lose our peace, they mean something. The awful things that people can and will do to us, intentionally or unintentionally, need to be forgiven. Sometimes, we need to cry over seemingly small things, we need to let ourselves be sad, we need to feel those frustrations, we need to let ourselves be messy and imperfect. We can’t ignore our feelings, because they are important. We can’t brush our sadness, our hurt, our brokenness, because we never truly heal from anything that way. It is only when we allow ourselves to break that Jesus can bring us his mercy. He can only bring us mercy and joy when we are not already full of our own want for control. By having our motto be “whatever happens, just be positive,” we are saying to God, “Don’t worry, I’m thinking positive, I’ve got this.”
So here’s my disclaimer. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be happy all the time. God doesn’t ask it of us, and we shouldn’t ask it of ourselves. But this is not to say that we should then have to be pessimistic and have a sour outlook on life, because that is no way to live the Christian life either. If we dwell on the pain, we become angry and bitter.
We need to search for Him, to find peace instead of positivity. We need to switch our focus to a reliance on God, instead of our own philosophies. To stop trying to create a world for ourselves where we’re happy all the time, because we know that in this world we can’t be. There is a big distinction to make between happiness and joy. We can’t be perpetually happy in this world, but we can be joyful. Joy has a different meaning. It means not just being “positive”, but having peace in all circumstances. Maybe you don’t see a huge difference, but to me, joy has a much deeper meaning and brings more realness to the table. Joy isn’t always happy, joy is serene, joy can look at struggles and say “I have a God who has my life in His hands, and all will be well.” To me, that runs so much deeper than mere positivity, where we just have to look on the bright side and create a temporary happiness that avoids suffering.
My point here is not to dwell on the negative for the sake of not being positive, but to recognize that true joy and love of life is not something we can create for ourselves. When we try to force positivity, we are trying to create our own joy. We are trying to grasp at something and create something for ourselves that only God can give us. Those inspiring people that I mentioned earlier do not have bitterness and fear behind the mask of positivity. They have let the Lord work in them and through them, they have embraced their suffering, they have found their rest in Him and not in their own philosophies. They have allowed themselves to break, to let the Lord into the struggles. Because paradoxically, only through our struggles and our crosses can we experience the fullness of Joy.
I encourage you not to strive for positivity. I encourage you to strive to be positively reliant on the source of true Joy.