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True positives and false positives

Positivity is a good thing. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s something I seek to live out. It’s even one of the six internal values of my company.

In the midst of a really difficult time, staying positive can be even harder...not simply because of the tough things in life. (It requires discipline, even in the simplest and best of times.)

It’s hard because I want to be honest, too.

My two “life values” that are personal to me (thanks Brene Brown) are freedom, and honesty. And right now not only is my freedom severely restricted, but I’m dealing with how and when and where and to what level to be honest.

I want to say when I’m having a hard day, or am angry, or sad. I want to be honest about that. But I also want to make sure I’m grateful, and looking for the good, looking for the blessing. How do you balance that? How do you stay honest, and stay positive too?

I had quite a low day on Tuesday of this week, followed by a fairly heavy day Wednesday. And I found myself thinking of all the things i was feeling, and trying to be grateful, and wondering where the line is?

I was trying to figure out, when do i move to gratitude when I’m feeling low or discouraged or frustrated or sad?

How long do I wait?

What’s the difference between waiting and working it through, and wallowing?

How do I stay honest about the hard days without becoming someone who is moaning and complaining?

As I mentioned in a previous post...I don’t know. No one knows. It’s all up and down. Emotional roller coaster. No clue what time it is or day of the week. There is no time. There are no rules. The patterns are confused. The routines have been upended and are only slowly being built back.

I went for my walk every morning, as usual, but I found myself on Wednesday’s walk trying really hard to be grateful, but still struggling with it. I listed off reasons and things in my head I was grateful for, and those were true. But they didn’t feel true. I still felt low.

But I kept doing the things.

I went for my morning walk. I did my situps and pushups. (Me and my nephew Jake are doing the 10+ plan we created ourselves: we started by doing 10 situps and pushups each day, and we add one per day. We send each other a Marco Polo video showing we’ve done it, and that’s it. Simple. Accountable. Fun, even!)

I cooked and ate good food. I didn’t order takeaways or overeat. I had my quiet times in the morning. I worked and messaged people and FaceTimed the family and prayed and worked some more.
And on Thursday morning, I went for my walk as usual. The sky was actually blue that day. The sun was shining on the little green buds unfurling on the trees. It was cutting through the branches of the trees, bringing a glow to everything around and lighting up the little white blossoms.

I walked along and suddenly thought, “Oh, I’m so grateful for this.”

Grateful for the blue skies, the flowers, the woods and walks which are just around the corner from me, legs and eyes that work, a phone to take pictures, even the ability to get outside of my house (I know not everyone can).

I’d been working on being grateful, but on Thursday morning I suddenly FELT grateful.

And i thought oh. Maybe that’s how it works.

Maybe that’s what true positivity is. Maybe it means being real about the hard things and insisting on gratitude, but not portraying the feelings falsely.

Most people have been either honest about their struggles or truly positive, but there are some “false positives” which can feel frustrating. “Okay I know we’re all in lockdown but you can learn an instrument or a new language!” “Yea you’re learning what it means to be at home and working, plus you have four kids at home, plus your partner is also working from home, but think about the great time with the family!”

The problem with those kind of statements is, they are only okay if they are balanced with honesty. With efforts to gratitude which aren’t always felt.

I realise not everyone wants to share all the things, and that’s okay too. You don’t have to go deep on Instagram if you don’t want to.

But if you ONLY share the positives and never the other side; if you say you’re fine and things are great when you were crying a few minutes before; if you insist this is like a restful holiday and people need to be all creative….we’ll spot it a mile away for a false positive.

False positives dismiss the hard things.

In my experience so far, when someone is ONLY ever positive (with no balance whatsoever), they either really haven’t experienced any true pain yet (their business is okay, their job is okay, they have money and food, no one they know has died yet), or they’re only giving you half the picture.

And true positivity recognises both: the good, and the hard.

Now, everyone does this at a different pace. I have friends who honestly recognise the hard, but literally work through that in a space of about five minutes, or maybe an hour. They do it quietly with themselves or with their partner or with God. Then they shake themselves a bit and share the good. That’s okay, as long as we’re not being given the impression there are no hard things, no trouble, no crying, no pain. Just all positives.

Because none of us have energy to waste on anything that’s fake - and we can spot it a mile away.

So yes, I want to be grateful. I am grateful.

But I can’t rush to gratitude.

This means not pretending everything is happy and perfect when it’s not. It means letting myself hold back from figuring out the moral or the answer or the help - and just sharing how things actually are. It means sorting out how I actually feel first, before rushing too fast to what I do about it next.

True positive means putting myself in the path of gratitude.

Still listing things even if I don’t feel as grateful as I’m used to feeling. Saying them aloud, writing them down. (Or not, if that’s a struggle that day, or that hour.) And following my new revised patterns as best I can... and then one morning I’m on a walk in the woods and I see the light shining on the blossoms, and buds opening, and the beauty outside my house matched the beauty sitting within my house, and I think “oh, I’m so grateful for this”. And it’s heartfelt and genuine: but it took work. I didn’t make it come, but I put myself in the path of gratitude and then it came at the right time.

If you’re not feeling particularly grateful, take some time to sit with your sadness or anger or confused feelings. Don’t rush to gratitude falsely. Don’t rush for the blessing.

Look for the blessing, yes. But sit with hardship on the way.

I don’t know how long it will last for you, or whether it will change even for you depending on how things go over the next few months. Like you, I don’t want to linger, to wallow. I don’t want to tell myself “Well I’m just being honest” and realise I’m using that as an excuse to complain or dwell on the hard things. And I don’t know how long this takes.

But I do know, if you’re not feeling super grateful (but tempted to feel guilty about it), maybe just sit with how you actually feel and put yourself in the path of gratitude. And go up. And down. And up again.

Because that’s how it goes right now. Up and down.


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