“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
[…] Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.” ~ Rumi
“Be positive”—this is the mantra we’ve grown accustomed to repeating whenever things get tough.
I have heard it so many times. And yes, I’ve said it even more. But I’m trying my best to no longer use this phrase.
I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with positive thinking. Our ability to stay positive proves how much we value happiness and long to diminish suffering.
And sometimes, being positive works. Though I’m not exactly sure how since I’m still unsure whether humans can manifest things or things are predestined. Perhaps, it’s a combination of both—maybe we can manifest certain things and surrender to the ones that are already written.
I’m not in any way underestimating the power of positive thinking or recommending we stop doing it entirely. I’m only suggesting something that has worked better for me and for those who have implemented it.
I now replace “be positive” with “be realistic.”
Even though positive thinking is often regarded as beneficial, it usually makes things worse for me. In severe moments of sadness, anger, or hopelessness, I can’t be positive. I feel as if I’m lying to myself or masking my true emotions.
Positive thinking became a way for me to escape the reality of my present moment. It felt like a direct translation of my fear that the worst outcome would occur.
More importantly, when the result was anything but positive, I found myself disappointed, like the universe had conspired to make me fail.
“Okay, I was positive and imagined beautiful outcomes. What the hell happened?!”
Being realistic was a different experience entirely. Most of us want to avoid the fact that life is a set of good experiences and bad experiences. And if we wish to delve deeper into this, things just are what they are. All sorts of stuff can happen to us. Buddhist philosophy has always been aware of this truth; the Four Noble Truths state that part of life is suffering.
But we humans don’t like this. We want life to be perfect, void of sorrows, and full of happy experiences at our disposal. This is precisely when positive thinking works best for us—or so we think. We convince ourselves that with positive thinking we can influence the end result and alter the course of events. While we might succeed to a certain extent, some things are just beyond our control.
What I’m suggesting here is to see life for what it is without masking it. Let’s say we apply for a job. Those who think positively imagine getting the job or at least getting a call back within the week. Those who are realistic forget about the interview the moment they finish. They let things be and switch their thinking from positive to neutral.
The greatest part of being realistic is feeling life flow easily because we’ve accepted both sides of the coin. Being realistic lessens the pressure and opens us up to what life has to offer.
Recently, a friend who is going through a breakup asked me if I think her ex will call her back. I paused for a moment and told her that I couldn’t lie to her or tell her to just be positive. I explained that breakups happen and we should be prepared to deal with all outcomes.
Her ex might call her back. But he might also fall in love with someone else. Or she might successfully move on with another partner. Regardless of what happens, it is not her job to seek the answers to those questions. I told her:
“Focus on yourself, welcome your emotions as they are, and believe that you will be okay. Things will fall into place.”
She seemed dumbfounded by my straightforward response, but I knew that fake positivity would only hurt her, especially if things turned out differently than what she was hoping. Because I truly believe that whatever happens is happening for our benefit.
To be realistic means to accept our emotions exactly as they are right now. And if you choose to practice positive thinking, I urge you to do it consciously, without tainting your real feelings at the moment. We humans give ourselves such a hard time for negative feelings. The minute we feel like crying, we yell at ourselves to stop the childish drama and be positive.
Negative emotions are not in any way childish. They are emotions we need to release or else they get stuck inside, eventually resurfacing in unhealthy ways. If we choose to think positive, it shouldn’t be as a tool to escape reality, taint challenging emotions, or avoid painful outcomes.
By giving realistic thinking a chance, we’re training our mind to be in tune with the ups and downs of life.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Jared Eberhardt/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman