Tarnya Davis | The positives of being negative

A THOUGHT: Turn that frown upside down ... or maybe not.

A THOUGHT: Turn that frown upside down ... or maybe not.

Would you rather be stuck on a desert island with a completely positive person or a completely negative person? 

With someone who says “look! An extended tropical holiday” or with someone else who says “we are never going to get off here and most probably one of us will eat the other and then die anyway”.  

Most would pick the positive person, and there’s evidence from the positive psychology movement that this is the wisest choice. It’s more likely to be a fun wait for the rescue, although perhaps the pessimist might be easier to eat.

The drive to be positive is powerful, and is certainly seen as the most desirable state of mind, but has the pendulum swung too far? 

Have we lost the ability to acknowledge or even notice any thought or emotion that isn’t resoundingly positive?

The pursuit of happiness is perhaps one of the red herrings in our modern world that lead us to search for something that, as we attempt to pursue it, usually disappears over the horizon. 

It’s a bit like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, instead of spending your time doing other things that are useful and might get you there anyway. 

Alongside of the pursuit of happiness is the disconnection for some people from any “negative” emotion such as sadness, anger and guilt. 

There are many people who are overwhelmed by these emotions but, similarly, there are many people who are doggedly determined to never be anything but positive. 

Psychologist Susan David in her book Emotional Agility says that happiness doesn’t come from pushing things under a rug, and that sometimes we need to listen to other emotions to see what we value.

When we connect more with what we value, we are better able to make the choices to live more according to those values. 

Yes, it might be more fun to be stuck on the island with the optimist enjoying an extended tropical holiday, but perhaps the negative has just as much value to you. 

For you might feel that you don’t want to be away from all the people you love back home, noticing the risks and the fears, and then be driven to act accordingly.  

It’s sometimes worthwhile making a little room for the negative.  

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists.