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Positive People Suck: The Happy Truth

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Worst line ever: And the winner is...


If you don't read any further, at least read this!

If you want to know the affects of messages of positivity on people, take the Christmas season for example. I am writing this during the holiday season knowing that depression, discontent, and substance abuse are rampant during this time of year. A common myth is that Christmas brings about increased rates of suicide, yet this isn't true. But we're not off the hook. Just after Christmas the suicide rates increase by over 40%. Why? We're bombarded with messages of positivity all around us especially from Thanksgiving through Christmas. We have high hopes for Christmas. When it doesn't live up to those expectations, we're a bit say the least.

The information above proves all this preposterous positivity posing as healthy for us is actually having the opposite affect. Imagine that! You thought all those lovely positive affirmations and quotes you post on your social media page is helping you and your friends. Not really. Remember when we first realized displays of beautiful models,while very attractive and beautiful to look at, were actually damaging to young women and their self esteem? Same idea here. But who am I to rain on your parade? And maybe I won't- later on I'll discuss how to determine how it affects you.

Why positivity isn't always great for us: people begin to believe the expectation for their own lives should be similar to the happy family traditions rubbed in our noses during holiday seasons or any time of year. There's a myriad of commercials on during any show you choose to watch, displaying happy families, smiling people, impossibly perfect gifts for that perfect person. This is what we think happiness looks like. And here's the catch...these are supposedly positive messages and cues yet they make people very unhappy.

There's a difference between positivity and happiness- that's the catch! I want to talk about why there's a difference- a huge one! How can you tell the difference and how to discern your own feelings when bombarded by various "positive" messages throughout your day (Social media, magazines, and self-help books).

But now you have to read more because you truly want to be happy and you might be getting the feeling that positivity isn't the path to happiness.




You have more than two choices

Great news! Life can be defined in other ways besides positive and negative! We've attached a stigma to anything not positive- that's too bad. By now we know there's more than black or white in this world. Some people still exist within this restrictive reasoning, but most of us know better. Just because you don't reek of positivity doesn't mean you're a negative Nellie.

There's a wide range of life that exists beyond the mere two choices. The stigma today in our culture is leaning toward negativity being the only alternative to a completely positive life. In fact, facts and reality are disturbing to people who only want positive vibes sent their way. To live is to experience, and be content, in times of good and bad. Within that definition of living, lies life. Life itself! Let me explain...

I'm not Buddhist but I've studied a religion or two and I like the Buddhist thoughts on life concerning good and bad. Basically the "good" and the "bad" are just labels. Over time we connect the two labels with good and bad emotions, thoughts, and experiences So it's become a habit of judgment rather than an experience. That further complicates seeing beyond merely negative or positive (good or bad). When people label things as good or bad they're doing themselves a great disservice and as you can see it escalates into a downward spiral of negative versus positive emotions. And the battle begins... well the "positive" self help movement gained its footing there.

Avoiding and labeling negativity has also complicated our lives. We either hide the negativity in our lives by avoiding discussion fearing they turn into an argument or we avoid people in our lives if they don't make us feel good. Furthermore we seek instant gratification that we've mistakingly labeled "happiness".

My first time

The first time I realized happiness wasn't what I thought it was, I grew up. It changed me. I was in a basic psychology college course and I heard the professor say, people who win the lottery are no more happier than they were before the windfall. Within 3 months after winning they go back to something called their baseline- a baseline of happiness. If they were happy before, then they'd still be happy- if they weren't before then the money made no difference. Wow!

Most of my 20's I spent chasing everyone's dream: car, my own place, finding the perfect guy, the perfect hair stylist, money, a great job, college, the list goes on. These are the things America is built on- or so we think. But Americans aren't living the American dream. Why? These things doesn't make a person happy. these are the things, and expectations, we grew up with.

Immigrants are living our American dream- those that come from other countries where money, is scarce, crime is prevalent, and nothing resembles freedom are appreciating coming to America and realizing their dreams of freedom, opportunity, autonomy, health, etc. These are meaningful endeavors. Meaning in our lives equals happiness.

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Money out of positivity

Money makes the world of positivity go round. I don't even have to be the average self help author to make some money off positivity. All I need is a nickel for every time a self help guru and/or author makes a living from the desperation of people's perfectly positive ideal.

The self help industry began to boom in the 70's. People were searching and changing And they felt they needed guidance. Self help gurus started to emerge with books that people clung to like the Bible.

Self help books proposed to help people in all areas of life; love, relationships, work, spirituality, and more. It was cheaper than a session with a psychologist although many of these gurus were lacking in credentials. Later down the road a few came out and said they weren't living the life they preached about. If their advice wasn't being followed or working in their own lives, how could it have worked in the lives of everyone else Over the past 40+ years? It likely worked as a placebo effect with a short shelf life.

For the skeptics (like me)

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The Science of Positive

Positive Psychology is the most popular class at Harvard University! "Positive psychology is the study of happiness. Psychology traditionally focused on dysfunction: people with mental illness or other psychological problems and how to treat them. Positive psychology, in contrast, is a relatively new field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled."

Positive Psychology was just getting a footing within the field when I was studying this major. While it attracts people with a certain lure of promise, "happiness" can't be measured effectively since it is extremely subjective. For instance, "based on quantitative self-polls, researchers found parents prefer doing almost anything else to looking after their children. By contrast, parents' self-report levels of happiness are higher than those of non-parents. This may be due to already happy people having more children than unhappy people. In addition, it might also be that, in the long-term, having children gives more meaning to life."

I would argue here that positivity is not an accurate nor measurable topic to study- at least not call a science. How can it be that parents are burdened with the constant care and responsibility of children yet report higher happiness levels than their non-children buddies? I'll give another possibility not mentioned in the science of this: The expected path for adults goes as this...get education, get married, get a house, have kids. I believe this is a pre-programmed path to "happiness" in our culture. While the norms are shifting, it is still highly regarded. It is thought, this is what makes us happy therefore we should be happy so of course people polled will report this automatic response.


  • Positive Psychology | Psychology Today
    Positive psychology is the study of happiness. Psychology traditionally focused on dysfunction: people with mental illness or other psychological problems and how to treat them. Positive psychology, in contrast, is a relatively new field that examine

Millions are on the quest for happiness

If you don't think the positivity phenomena is taking over our lives, tune into this guy Shawn Achor (if you haven't already). Millions tune into his speeches, lectures, and his best-selling book (Before Happiness). I've got mixed feelings about Shawn- on the one hand he's done extensive research in the field of positive psychology, but on the other hand he is hyper aware of happiness since it's his life's work and quest. Most of us are not able to be that fully engaged in our quest. I think we hope happiness happens and we want a quick solution when it does not.

I've seen a few interviews with Shawn Achor including one with Google and Oprah. Initially It sounds great in the one hour that I listen to him, but then I get back to my own life. My life isn't studying happiness and a fair share of us don't have that time to devote to it either. I may be the eternal cynic, but he uses the two magic words: Success and Happiness, which translates to me- GIMMICK! Success and happiness are defined differently by everyone- this is acknowledged by Shawn Achor and I commend him for that.

Let's face it though, people have this one idea of what happiness and success looks like so if Shawn isn't trying to perpetuate that myth then he is utilizing those words to his personal gain. In our society today this idea can hardly be applied- happiness is instant gratification to a lot of us. I think if happiness thrust itself upon us we wouldn't even recognize it. I saw a sign today at a quaint gift shop that read: May your life be as perfect as you pretend it is on Facebook.

Moving onto authentic happiness: Shawn mentions "joy"- yes, finally someone has separated the notion of happiness from joy. I believe we need more joy in our lives and this is the road to authentic happiness. Joy isn't focusing on only the positive- it is similar to the Buddhist belief that happiness, or rather contentment, can be found anywhere. Pleasure is instant gratification and is not happiness- in the moment we get pleasure from reading a happy book like Shawn's or reciting a feel-good quote, but it's only instant then we need more.

Sometimes we get so good at wearing these masks, we've convinced even ourselves. It's easy to do because no one has the time to reflect anymore so we keep busy enough to never come to terms with the reality of our lives- are we really happy? If we are, why do we keep searching for the next Shawn Achor?

Many would argue that's the idea- put on a smile, see the best in the worst, and that can transform into happiness. Shawn Achor isn't too far off from this. He states we need to "practice" happiness because for some it doesn't come naturally. I'm not arguing that, but suppose a cynic like me is happy that way. What other studies have found is that poor communities such as in the Louisiana bayou or 3rd world countries are actually quite fulfilled.

In this book...

Need a study to back my words up? In this book I've put a link to, the author Burkeman has been studying the effects of the positivity movement. "The problem is that we have developed the habit of chronically overvaluing positivity and the skills of 'doing' in how we think about happiness, and that we chronically undervalue negativity and the 'not-doing' skills, such as resting in uncertainty or getting friendly towards failure."

He also finds that the happiest countries are where self help books rarely sell. As well as efforts to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. Wow! I'm not done yet! He states positive affirmations actually make a person feel less self esteem and less Lovable.

Instant Gratification


While doing research and using real life examples within my own life, I realized this invested interest people have in positivity stems from an inherent quest for utopia. I've heard it time and again how people want our diverse world to come together and, for a lack of better words, get along. Of course the problem with utopia is a lack of reality. And even so, people don't care- they still cling to it. If you haven't seen the 2014 movie, The Giver, you must!

The Giver is based on a utopian society. Finally a society has managed to work like a close knit community, building on people's strengths, getting along, no war, erasing the bad stuff from history, but what the main character finds is that isn't really living. The utopian society was devoid of strong feelings both good and bad. Squashing or erasing the bad things we've known in our society such as war, isn't the ideal alternative.

I've followed a piece of advice for as long as I can remember and I'm not even sure where I got it from, but it makes sense. To know good, you must know bad. Good doesn't exist without bad. In other words a diamond shines brightest on a dark background. People have become so uncomfortable with negativity that the good in their lives is dulled.

The Promise of Positivity: A False Reality

On the topic of utopia, I had a personal experience the other day when I read a Facebook post that's been circulating through various media: It was about an African tribe who builds each other up, saying positive things to each other when someone makes a mistake (instead of punishing them). What a grand idea (or illusion).

I read this story and with my background in science immediately knew it was untrue, but it had received so much recognition and attention. Sure enough I did the background on it and it wasn't true. The picture was stolen and taken out of context for starters. Another post had referred to them as the Bemba tribe, but even that was sketchy. The Bemba tribe doesn't have these rituals either. As I pointed out to fellow commenters on the post, many didn't care if it wasn't true and delighted in the story- wished we could make our society like that.

The reality of this positive "story" was it makes us feel awful about our own lives and our community and culture for not living up to this impossible standard. We'd all be a little happier if we looked around us, accepted reality, and just appreciate the good, the bad, and everything in between. The positivity promise is like a weight loss promise- a billion dollar industry full of lies and decreased self-esteem.

Positivity abuse and the endless cycle

I know there will be at least one positive Pollyanna who will say positive affirmations and daily doses of positivity practice makes them feel better. And I say to does alcohol and prescription pain killers! If you'll notice, the "practice" of positivity isn't really practice, it's similar to abuse, a substance fix. If it were merely practice, you'd need less and less each day because you'd master it eventually through practice. It's apparent in our society that people indeed need more and more instead, which is like the cycle of substance abuse.

Hey I'm not calling anyone an addict here simply because they enjoy reading positive quotes and books like The Power of Postiive Thinking.

An unrealistic expectation of how someone believes they are supposed to feel can often lead them to doing what it takes to stay at that level. For some it is actually substance abuse, and for others on the positivity bandwagon, it is daily doses of a positivity fix.

Harmful versus Harmless


  • a daily fix, dose, or practice of positivity
  • you don't know what to do when times get tough and you're very uncomfortable with negative emotions
  • your main genre of books you choose is self help books
  • avoiding problems, procrastinating solutions
  • living by others' words instead of finding your own. Self help authors are typically booked as speakers too because they're charasmatic And people use the catch phrases as crutches
  • when you're dealing with a problem you hear a self help guru's words in your head instead of your own- this is related to the point above
  • guilt about how we should be feeling or living


  • journaling
  • time for reflection
  • knowing your baseline: if you're not comfortable feeling less than positive, find joy where you can. The need for happy is different for everyone. Just don't force it if it feels artificial
  • knowing yourself: what makes you happy, not your neighbor, not your fb friends. YOU
  • seeking real help from a trained professional like a counselor or psychologist
  • Gratitude- nothing wrong with being thankful
  • listening and associating with real people who also share your same issues and troubles- support groups, for instance.

Are you convinced?

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L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on April 02, 2015:

Thanks so much Julie. I don't mean to be "negative" but actually I felt it would benefit those who try hard to be positive sometimes to the point that it depresses them. I'm glad you've given the topic some thought as most people just think there's only one goal and one way to be: positive!

Julie K Henderson on April 01, 2015:

Well done! I've pondered this subject, and I think you make excellent points. Thank you.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on March 04, 2015:

Thanks MsDora!! Always nice to hear from you!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 26, 2015:

This article is very practical, an element that may be lacking from much of the theories on positivity. You give the freedom to be and feel the real thing. Thanks for a very good lesson.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on February 12, 2015:


My "point of view" is backed by science so you don't have to buy it. All you have to do is accept the truth my friend.

poetryman6969 on January 29, 2015:

An interesting point of view. Can't say I buy it but it is interesting.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 14, 2015:

Thanks savvy dating!!

Willstarr, yes exactly- it's not reality. And you put that much more eloquently than I could :-) Nothing better than a hammock and a summer breeze.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on January 03, 2015:

Excellent Hub.

'Happiness' is way overrated because it denotes an unattainable, permanent joy. What we are actually seeking is tranquility and peace.

That's why we like a hammock, a gentle summer breeze, and the sweet songs of birds. That's why we want a secluded cabin in the woods. And that's also why we turn to drugs and alcohol...simple peace and tranquility.

savvydating on January 02, 2015:

Excellent point about illness, izetti!!!

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 01, 2015:

Thanks for reading James!


I too love that Buddhist concept. We've labeled for so long we have attached negative emotions to things that are simply part of life like illness that everyone may go through at some point.

I love that elevator story- I find myself in that situation at times too.

savvydating on January 01, 2015:

I'd been looking forward to reading this hub article for some time. It did not dissapoint. I would go so far as to say this is a great article! I like the Bhuddist concept about practicing non-judgement about bad or good (feelings). What is, is. Our feelings can serve us well if we allow them to be, whether "bad" or not. They can teach us.

I remember a line in a book from an author whose name I can't remember. He found himself in an elevator with someone who began preaching positivity to him. (She had just attended a seminar) All he could think was, "Please wipe that f------g smile off of your face." I thought he had an excellent point. Voting up, useful, interesting, awesome.

James A Watkins from Chicago on December 31, 2014:

Thank you for this excellent article. I enjoyed reading it very much.

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on December 22, 2014:

Thanks for visiting my corner of the hubworld- I love to provide people an outlet for some deeper thoughts and think about life a little differently. Trying to stop the sheep mentality!!

L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on December 22, 2014:

KU37 great comment about the Charlie Brown show- it puts me in a similar emotional state. Thanks for stopping by.

mio cid- I've been reading some of your article in the past few weeks- not much time to comment but I was glad to see you're still writing with your usual passion! I had been concentrating on writing a kids chapter book and at least wanted to get it in some form to send to an agent or publisher. but I miss hubpages and have a couple more article lined up I've been working on.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on December 21, 2014:

In depth hub and much food for thought. You are so right that Xmas and post-Xmas can be the most depressing times of the year for some people, and yes positive thinking and happiness are two very different things. Well written article. Voted up.

mio cid from Uruguay on December 21, 2014:

Before I even read this hub let me tell you that I had a synchronicity episode with you today because a few hours ago I was looking at people I follow and I visited your profile to see what you were up to, and when I saw you hadn't done anything for weeks I was going to message you to see what's up,before that happened you posted this hub,which makes my day. Cheers!

KU37 on December 21, 2014:

Great Hub! Good debunking job. For years, during this time of year, I would be affected by the Charlie Brown Christmas TV show, viewing it as an adult. This show pre-dated the self-help movement by a few years. Although I'm not religious, Linus' simple recitation of Luke always gets to me, and I can't watch it anymore because I get too overwhelmed - mainly with nostalgia. But my point is, if Charlie Brown had not been whining about commercialization etc., and had not been so down in the dumps, then the REDEMPTION in the simple little 20 minute story would be completely unnecessary. There is no positive without a negative, as your Hub clearly spells out.

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