There’s a movement afoot… It’s known by various names including the “Be Positive Movement,” and the “Positivity Movement.”
It’s even spawned organizations like, “Action for Happiness,” which has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama.
A first cousin to the positivity movement is the “Smile Culture.”
The principles of these movements are simple.
…that we can influence our mental health and happiness by being positive.
…that we can impact our families, our communities, our nations, and even our world by thinking positively.
…that negative thinking not only makes us unhappy, it destines us for reduced wealth, unfulfilling careers, and relationship conflict.
…that virtually every ill known to mankind can be remedied by being positive, shutting out negative feelings, and smiling.
At first glance, the movement – and the philosophy it adopts – appears harmless if not helpful.
Who would oppose positive thinking? Who could be against thinking wholesome and encouraging thoughts? Why fill our heads and relationships with depressing, life-draining negativity?
Why welcome negative feelings? Why not shut out negative feelings and entertain positive ones instead?
But there are good reasons why we should not embrace the positivity movement nor practice its philosophy…
…at least, not to such a radical extent.
Here are 11 critical reasons why you shouldn’t shut out your negative feelings.
1. Negative feelings are an effective warning system.
Just as fear warns us of impending danger, negative feelings do the same.
Fear doesn’t perform the needed action. Fear merely tells us that action should be taken. Without the fear, we wouldn’t know. Fear not only motivates you to take helpful action, fear can literally save your life.
When we have negative feelings, our body is sounding an alarm. The alarm informs us of something with potential to harm us in some way. But that appropriate action can stave off such harm.
Just as fear is an effective warning system, so are our negative emotions. Embrace them and determine why you have them.
What should you be taking notice of? What harm should you avoid? What action should you take?
2. Negative feelings tell us that something is not quite right.
This one is similar to the first one, though slightly different. Negative emotions not only warn us of danger, they tell us when something is not quite right.
It may be something about a relationship. Or our work and career. It might be a health issue that needs addressing. It could be a pang of guilt that prompts us to do what we had previously put off.
There’s no need to see negative feelings as a pesky annoyance. Rather, see them as a trusted friend. A friend who has your best interests at heart.
3. Negative feelings are an expression of our humanness.
Do you know someone who lacks normal human emotions?
We would not commend such a person for their ability to stifle negative feelings and stuff negative emotions. We’d say, “What’s wrong with them?” Why do they seem to lack the emotions that make us human?
One reason may be that they shut out their negative feelings. They may think that negative feelings are harmful.
However, a more likely conclusion we’d draw is that there IS something wrong with them. They’re not balanced. Denying our negative feelings simply makes us less human.
After all, we don’t look for negative emotions in our computer, in our car, or in our washing machine. Why? Because these things are not human, they’re machines.
Machines don’t have emotions. But human beings not only have emotions, they must embrace them. Whether they be positive or negative. It’s part of being human.
4. Negative emotions motivate us to take helpful action.
Have you ever moped around feeling sorry for yourself? Or felt sad about the way things are going? Maybe you’ve just received bad news and it’s starting to soak in.
Rather than deny your negative feelings, embrace them! Let them flow through you like a river. Feel them. Acknowledge them. Give them a name. Think through why you have them. Let them speak to you.
You feel this way for a reason. It’s okay to explore the reason.
Then let your negative feelings encourage you to take action. Let them move you to find a solution.
If you’re feeling down, put on your sneakers and take a long walk. Ideally in a place where nature is on full display. Maybe at the shore, in the woods, along a meadow of wildflowers, or on a hiking trail. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you feel better.
Don’t deny the negative feelings. Don’t apologize for having them. Don’t shut them out or deny their presence. Simply let your negative feelings prompt you to act.
If you feel badly that you’ve neglected to write that letter, sit down and start writing.
If you owe someone a phone call, pick up your phone and call them. Schedule a lunch or breakfast date. Tell them how you feel. They may just cheer you up or share some of their own insight.
Don’t let your negative feelings stifle or paralyze you. Let them inspire you.
That said, sometimes negative feelings linger, even after we’ve taken appropriate action. In such cases, we may need to seek professional assistance.
If the negative feelings begin to overwhelm you, it’s time to get help. Negative feelings have their place, but they need to be kept in balance.
5. Negative feelings allow us to appreciate the good things in life.
Imagine what it would be like if you never had a sad moment. If everything went exactly like you thought it would. If you could predict every event with perfection. If every moment of your life was filled with happiness, contentment, and pleasure.
In fact, it’s times we experience negative feelings that lead us to appreciate life all the more. Not because we just feel better when we feel better, but because negative feelings force us to reckon with life as it really is.
And when we do, we realize that along with the pain and suffering, life provides us much to be thankful for and appreciate.
So when you have those negative feelings, let them remind you that the majority of the time you don’t have them.
Let it be a reminder of the good things in your life. Of which there are plenty. Even if your life isn’t everything it could be, you’re grateful for what it actually is.
6. Negative feelings confirm what is important.
One reliable indicator that you’ve entered the sacred ground of your core values is when you have negative feelings.
You may be violating one of your core beliefs. You may have failed to deliver on a promise. Perhaps you compromised when you should have held firm.
Think of your negative feelings as a gentle tap on the shoulder. A question coming to you that asks:
“Is this something you really want to do?”
“Are you sure you want to go there?”
“Do you realize this would violate one of your core values?”
Our negative feelings are an important affirmation that we’re honoring our cherished beliefs and convictions.
To deny or ignore or suppress your negative feelings may ensure that you fail to honor what you’ve determined is important to you.
One of the few downsides of feeling good and being happy is that it can lull us to sleep. It can foster apathy about life in general and our own lives in particular.
When we have negative feelings, it’s an internal call for us to ponder. Inviting us to think deeply about something we may have skimmed over previously.
It could be a call to think about our health habits. Or our spending patterns. Or how we’ve been treating a particular person. Maybe it’s an invitation to think about the quality of our work in recent days.
It could even be something as simple as a gentle nudge to take care of a matter that you’ve been avoiding for a long time. Don’t argue with the feelings, embrace the feelings and spend some time in thought. It will probably help you.
8. Negative feelings act as a safety valve when we get overloaded.
Sometimes we just overdo it. We push ourselves beyond our safe limits. We take on more than we should have.
When this happens, if we’re fortunate, we have some negative feelings. A wake-up call for us to slow down. To pace ourselves. To take on fewer commitments for a season.
Without the feelings, we might push ourselves too far, inviting illness, frustration, or failure.
Don’t let this happen.
Listen to your inner voice. Heed the warning that comes through your negative feelings. It’s there to serve you, not hinder you.
9. Negative feelings allow us to heal from injuries and afflictions.
Generally speaking it’s not good to have thin skin. To be overly sensitive. It’s helpful when we can let go of things that might otherwise bother us.
When we choose not to confront the unkind remark. When we aren’t overly burdened by the criticism of others. To overlook what may be meant as an insult or put-down.
In such cases, thick skin can serve us well. We don’t need to be overly bothered by the petty things in life.
That said, sometimes we really are hurt by someone else. And we need to work through it. Which can take time. Along the way we may have negative feelings.
We may feel sad about what happened. We may be disappointed things didn’t go the way we had hoped. Let those feelings be an opportunity for you to continue the healing work. To get past the injury or affliction.
Denying that you were hurt will not help you heal. It will only prolong the healing process.
Those negative feelings remind you of the reality that life can be painful at times. Those feelings can promote your healing. So let it happen.
10. Negative feelings help keep us from denying reality.
There’s a false belief out there that denial is effective. That if we pretend that something doesn’t bother us, that it won’t. If we can conjure up some self-delusion, we’ll be fine.
This is part of the dogma of the positivity movement. That allowing negative feelings free reign will compound our problems. That there’s no value in admitting the obvious, or in accepting unpleasant or painful realities.
This is a lie.
When something is true and real, it doesn’t help to pretend that it’s not…
…when you just got fired from a job you loved, it’s of little help to deny that you really loved the job. Or that the firing is better for you.
Sure, the time will come when you need to look on the bright side. When you can reframe the event as an opportunity for something better. And something better is certainly possible.
But for now, it’s okay to grieve the loss and the disappointment. It’s perfectly fine to feel the pain of the bad news. It doesn’t make you weak or pathetic. It makes you honest and courageous.
When you experience a painful relationship breakup. Or you have some unsettling health news. Or you make an investment that goes south. Or you’re unable to attend an important event.
All of these experiences are common. There’s no sense pretending that they’re unique to your life. And there’s no sense pretending they don’t bother you. When they do.
If you have negative feelings about them, it’s a sure sign they do bother you. Admit it to yourself. Feel the loss. Feel the pain. Feel the disappointment.
Then figure out how to move past it. After all, there’s no need to heal from a sickness you don’t have. There’s no call to move on from an event that never happened.
Don’t deny reality. You can’t effectively navigate reality if you deny it.
11. Negative feelings are characteristic of certain temperaments.
Lastly, it’s important to understand that not everyone is a “Susie Sunshine,” or “Happy Harry,” or “Positive Paula.”
Some people are wired with a melancholic temperament.
It’s not that they don’t enjoy life. But they’re not ecstatic because their team won the game. They don’t go all giddy because they have a new pair of shoes. They don’t gush when they bite into a good cheeseburger.
Their personality is more calm and reserved. They aren’t unhappy, they just aren’t overly expressive. That’s okay.
But people of this temperament and personality tend to have more negative feelings than others. They worry more. They’re more cautious. They tend to be more suspicious than the average person.
On the other hand, these people also tend to be more empathic. They care more than most do. They’re the first to lend an ear or offer a word of encouragement to those who are down.
Such people are down a lot, so they know what it feels like to be down. They think deeply about things. They think deeply about everything. They have negative feelings much more than others do. And that’s okay too.
It’s not right to judge such people or condemn them. Or tell them they need to shape up and become more positive. Or that they need to laugh more. (Though laughing more is not a bad idea.)
It’s not appropriate or kind to scold them and tell them that they need to be more positive and not so negative.
Such advice misses the point. This is just the way certain people are wired. Just as some people are more vivacious and outgoing. The life of every party.
Should we tell such people that they should be more negative?
We need to let people be who they are. And not criticize people for simply being themselves. We would want to be treated the same way.
I leave you with 8 points to keep in mind when dealing with negative feelings:
1. It’s helpful to be positive and hopeful. Being positive has many benefits.
2. It’s not necessary to be positive and hopeful all the time about everything.
3. Negative feelings serve an important and useful function.
4. We should not deny, ignore, or suppress our negative feelings.
5. We should heed our negative feelings and welcome their contribution.
6. We should understand that negative feelings are not a character flaw.
7. We should recognize that negative feelings are more common for some.
8. We should realize that denial does not change reality, it only denies it
I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. I’m a teacher at heart, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But within a few years, felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for more than 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. My blog is Quotation Celebration, where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within great quotes.