The power of positivity is a myth but we can find calm in uncertainty

Sometimes people who are having a tough time are told to ‘stay positive’ or not to lose hope. It seems to allude to some greater supernatural power because how can (blind) belief alone bring good fate? Surely for every person who believes and is lucky enough to have good fortune, there is someone else who believed and had bad fortune? It’s reminiscent of concepts of religious faith where strength of belief in God seems to be more important (or even more virtuous) than whether or not you’re a good person.

I always wince a little at the suggestion of positivity for positivity’s sake because the thought of letting myself hope feels dangerous. I am already coping with a difficult time but if I let myself hope, surely the blow will be twice a hard if I am disappointed?

Okay so there’s evidence of a mind/body link. And if a person is facing uncertainty but all they do is worry and they can’t sleep and they cry and wear themselves out, it makes sense that their physical health might suffer. But it could be said that a person trying to make themselves be positive also causes themselves some strain because they really don’t know how things will turn out and if we don’t listen to and express our deepest fears, they might stay bottled up. That is also unhealthy. Whichever way we try to ‘look’ at things, we simply do not know the future. That is going to be difficult to reconcile.

So should we be pessimistic then? Sometimes I’ve tried to prepare myself for the worst. It works in a way because it does make it less awful if the worst does happen. However, it means that you live through all that time in a state of artificial sadness. The human brain doesn’t really do ‘not knowing’. But finding a way to be neither optimistic or pessimistic can be an opportunity to observe that we are part of something far, far greater. I once glimpsed it when they put an embryo inside me to see if it would grow. I let myself truly see that this embryo may or may not become a baby – not because it was destined to be so – but because we are teeny tiny parts of a random process. The fact that it’s me in this body is completely irrelevant. There are other ‘me’s all around us – that person who just found out they have cancer, that person who got made redundant and can’t find a job, that person whose child has a learning difficulty. The world does not revolve around us. My fate is not being carefully crafted for me.

So how can we deal with uncertainty?

There are two things which help:

  1. Confront your fear (but not in the ‘go bungee jumping’ way):  Our fears can haunt us constantly, yet we dare not acknowledge them – perhaps because we think we might completely lose control. The big challenge is to let yourself really imagine worst-case scenario but find a way to say ‘I will be okay’ or ‘I accept’. It can be the most tremendous relief and we defuse our fear.
  2. Focus on the things you can control: Whatever the challenge we face, there are so many other dimensions to life or things to appreciate. Of course we must give ourselves space to feel sad or hard done by, but it is possible to turn ‘why me?’ into ‘I am thankful for what I (have) had’ or ‘I regret nothing.’ In order to arrive here we must foster a deep love for ourselves and judge ourselves only by our own standards.

Hope is the other side of wanting something. But we cannot always have everything we want. If we have to cope with not having what others have, or have to overcome great challenge, we should be truly proud of ourselves. One would never wish it to be that way but the process of coming to terms with challenge might help us to notice and appreciate things to be grateful for or see things in a new light. Hardship can bear gifts sometimes.

If we can begin to appreciate what we have then we have the elixir of life. We have triumphed. Because in fact, many people who have the things we wish we had may not have this elixir. It is not the acquiring of things in life which brings happiness; it is the ability to love ourselves and recognise what we do have, every tiny bit.