You’re so positive, said a friend to me recently.
Often enough, that’s not how it feels.
But perhaps the difference is this. I know now that positivity isn’t a fixed state. It’s a choice, and a practice. A choice to take control of my mind and emotions, and what surrounds me. And a practice of working at that, regularly and practically, just like learning the piano, or mastering how to bring characters alive on the page, or the discipline of yoga.
Positivity isn’t about being relentlessly optimistic, closing your eyes and trusting it will either all go away or work out exactly how you want it to. Nor does it mean pretending that pain and loss and challenge aren’t an an integral part of our lives.
Positivity can mean listening to your inner voice telling you why it’s hurting. It means acknowledging that pain, but rather than giving in to it, choosing to not let it define your thinking or your actions.
Positivity is choosing to see what you need to shore up in your own resilience, and taking action. It’s recognising that you haven’t done any exercise for several days and putting on your running shoes, or realising you haven’t had a good conversation about anything important to you, so inviting a friend for coffee.
Positivity is finding one thing to do when nothing seems worthwhile: writing a birthday card to your nephew, because it will give him pleasure, or putting on music you used to love because it brings you back to life.
Positivity is expressing appreciation to someone else for what they bring to you. It means removing yourself from the negative energy of gossip, or criticism of others, even if the people doing it are people you value.
And positivity is inextricably linked to gratitude. Not a woolly ‘looking on the bright side’, but actively identifying the things in your world that you are grateful for, now, today. Warm socks. A hug from your child. Simply, your heartbeat (stop now, and listen to it). Gratitude, like positivity, is an active practice. The more we do it, the more our brains turn to it under stress to help us through it.
The point of any practice is that we do it badly. We fail regularly. We look at what we’re doing, and how, and we get frustrated. But if we were perfect, why would we bother? We keep showing up because we believe it has to be worth it. Living positively is no different, and the point of failing is to keep us motivated to do it better. We wake up and feel that the world can never give us what we want. Our work gets rejected. We can’t stand another day of some insignificant habit our spouse has. So we stumble, or fall flat on our faces. But we get up, wipe off the mud, and keep practicing.
So today I choose positivity. Some days it’s easier, and some days it comes only with hard work. But it is always, always better than the alternative.