Can we live with only good vibes?

Some people seem to live in a world of non-stop happiness. They dance around life with a no-fucks-given good-vibes attitude and appear to be on top of the world at all times. These people are so enviable that we (almost) want to hate them but can’t because they’re so annoyingly fun to be around. If only we could all be like them!

Well maybe we can, but do we want to be? Is positivity the same as happiness? Or does it at least lead to happiness? Settle in friends for a journey across the high-frequency vibrations that the universe is resonating—and find out why statements like that can get in the bin.

Does positivity lead to happiness?

First of all; what the fuck is happiness? I’m sure you’ve read my article on happiness so you’ll know that it comes from accepting life’s sloppy shit sandwiches instead of avoiding them. If that’s the case, then surely being overly positive all the time can’t lead to happiness? Bingo.

Constant, excessive positivity is essentially a way of running away from sadness. It’s clutching on to the idea that forcing happiness all of the time will lead to being happy all the time. While this might work in the short term, all those problems and sad experiences that we’re running away from are still there, waiting to pounce like a sad-times tiger. Difficult conversations, parking fines and the dirty dishes that have been piling up for a week may be painful to think about but they can’t be put off forever. In fact, by putting them off, the conversations get harder, the fines get bigger and the pile of dishes makes you want to cry. Plus, getting into the habit of avoiding sadness leaves us unprepared when the huge shit sandwiches come out of nowhere. For example, when a close friend or family member dies, we can’t just pretend it didn’t happen (trust me, I’ve tried). The only way to successfully deal with these things is to hit them head-on and grieve. And that’s a whole lot easier after building up the ability with lots of little sadnesses. You can only ride the positive-vibe non-stop wave for so long before you reach a freight train coming the other way and your ego gets smashed into a gruesome mess. There’s a cliché that says “The biggest smile hides the deepest pain” (or something along those lines) and, while it’s vomit-inducingly cheesy, in many cases it’s true. It’s easier to run away from pain than to face it, to put on a brave face and pretend that everything is OK. Just because someone is positive, don’t assume that they’re happy. Keep an eye on your friends, people. 💜

No one wants the party to stop and reality to set in. But anyone that’s been to a day and night rave will know that you can only party for so long. That shit is exhauuuusting and at some point, you have to crash. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of indulgence and a life without the occasional excess sounds like a drag. But the point of this analogy is that excess—whether it’s partying or positivity—isn’t sustainable and every high needs a corresponding low. Constantly seeking positive feelings is a way of hiding from negative ones and that never ends well (see freight train example above). Instead, owning up to our true feelings shows integrity and sticking to our values. After all; if we can’t live up to our own values then how do we know what’s right or wrong?

Positivity is a positive thing

That’s the heavy shit out of the way so let’s move over to the land of the positive because, despite everything that I just said, I actually think positivity is a good thing. I know; mixed signals or what?

Positivity—or optimism—is beneficial because without it we might as well give up hope and resign ourselves to a life of suffering. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t exactly sound like a blast. Yet, there are a lot of people who seem to live their life this way. You know, the overly cynical people that complain at everything but never seem to do anything about it? They can usually be heard spouting things like “British weather is always shit” or “Bloody cyclists shouldn’t be on the road”. Calm down Karen, the world doesn’t revolve around you. We all get sad, angry and annoyed at times and, as we’ve established, it’s important to allow these emotions. But there’s a difference between being openly sad, and complaining that the world is against you. As a side note, I should clarify that this, and the rest of this article, refers to mentally healthy people. A negative outlook caused by depression or other mental health issues is a medical issue and very different to a generally cynical attitude.

A glass of beer, half of which has been drank.
Half full or half empty? As long as there’s beer in there I don’t really care.

The other problem with cynicism is that it’s contagious. We are influenced so much by those around us that some people believe you can predict a person’s mood and behaviour just by analysing the 5 people they hang around with the most. Whether this “5 chimps theory” is bullshit or not, I don’t know. But most of us have experienced our interests and opinions being influenced by friends and partners. Therefore, spending enough time with cynical people can make us start to wonder if the world really is against us. I’m not suggesting that you stop hanging out with cynical friends (that would be a cynical suggestion), but instead try to be the one influencing them and maybe even spreading a little optimism 🙂

Becoming optimistic

So how can we be more optimistic? You could try listening to “Always look on the bright side” over and over again but anything more than a couple of plays will probably make you want to jab pens in your ears. Instead, I suggest we learn to not see ourselves as victims. Optimism is usually defined as looking positively towards the future but in the present tense, we can think of it as finding the best of our current situation; the upside if you like. For this, not pegging ourselves as victims is key. Obviously, there are situations where people are victims. But these usually involve other people and it’s important to distinguish them from times when we think that the world is victimising us. The universe is random, it doesn’t pick on people and it’s not out to get us. Therefore, while we can be a victim of an attack or scam, we’re not a victim just because our car broke down. Yes, it might suck and it’s (probably) not our fault (unless you couldn’t be bothered to get it serviced for 5 years; that one’s on you.) But that doesn’t make us victims and complaining that we’ve been dealt a shit hand doesn’t help the situation. What does help the situation is the optimistic attitude of finding solutions to the problems that we face. If you think about it, life is an endless string of solving problems. Learning to have a crack at solving them rather than complaining about them is an incredibly valuable attitude. If you want to go one step further, learn, not just to focus on solving the problems but, to actually enjoy it.

Fortune favours the positive

You may be thinking “But it’s not fair, I’m just really unlucky and nothing ever goes right for me”. Sure, life is random which means we all have differing amounts of good and bad fortune. But what if some of the “lucky” people aren’t always as fortunate as they seem? For one thing, lucky people tend to put themselves in situations where they are more likely to be fortunate. They know the odds and play them to their advantage. Just like a poker game, every player gets good hands and bad hands. The best players take advantage of the good hands and minimise their losses on the bad while the beginner players are too busy complaining about their luck.

More importantly though, seemingly lucky people tend to downplay their bad luck which makes them appear more fortunate. Think of someone you know that always seems to luck out and then try to notice if they’re also a generally positive or optimistic person. Positive people, by definition, talk more about positive things than negative, often because they think that others would rather hear their happy stories. This means that they’ll let you know about a winning night on the slots, the speeding ticket that never got chased up or the £20 note they found on the floor. But they might avoid complaining about their dog shitting all over the carpet this morning. It will probably still come up in conversation, but instead of being a shitty turn of bad luck that the universe has delivered, it’s a chance to tell a funny story. Negative people, on the other hand, are biased towards talking about the bad things that have happened to them. The good things might get brushed off as “not a big deal” or even forgotten about because they don’t form part of their cynical narrative. And this attitude difference is the key. An optimistic and resilient mindset can turn us into that lucky person that we envy so much.  However, just like exercise, it can take a long time to see results and it needs constant effort for the habit to stick. Otherwise, a couple of months down the line, the life-sucks-balls attitude can come creeping back and we forget all about our attempts to become “luckier”.

A cute dog staring at the camera with a plain pink background behind it.
Can you really be mad at a face like that? Even if they did ruin your carpet…

Being optimistic about happiness

So being optimistic and taking responsibility are key parts of becoming happy.  But is it always that way around or are there other connections between positivity and happiness? Well first of all, there are positive people who are positive because they’re happy. Someone who’s happy is naturally going to appear more positive than someone who’s having a shit time and that happiness is going to be evident in the way they talk and act.

Then there are the extraverted people who are happiest when they’re around others. These people may seem overly happy and positive when they interact with you. But it’s because they’re interacting with you that they’re happy. How’s that for a mood-boosting compliment? This doesn’t mean, though, that they’re super happy all of the time. They may revert back to a neutral or even unhappy state when there’s no one else around because they’re no longer in the situation that puts them in their happy place. This example of not seeing the whole picture is known as an observer bias. It basically says that the results you see are influenced by the fact that you’re seeing them. You don’t see the whole picture of someone’s attitude and mindset because these things are changed when you interact with them.

While the relationship between positivity and happiness is about as straightforward as any that involves the Kardashians,  there’s definitely a positive correlation. But what happens when we take it too far?

Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

Yes that is a Britney Spears quote. Don’t read into it.

Positivity can be great but if you’ve ever tried to finish an entire 18” pizza on your own then you’ll know that it’s possible to have too much of a great thing. Toxic positivity, or overly positive attitudes, are an attempt to get rid of all negativity. This is very different to being optimistic and, as shown by the name, it’s unhealthy. It causes us to block off negative emotions which are a valuable part of human experience (in the right amounts). Think back to those awkward school photographs where the photographer would come in, make you sit in front of a weird paper background and “say cheese” while they snapped away with a bright strobe and made you temporarily blind. No matter how much your mum said you look like a handsome boy or a beautiful little girl, you knew that you looked like an absolute melon. These days, they might as well get the kids to take selfies and save some money. Anyway, the point is that saying cheese may force your face into a position that looks kind of like a smile, but all the little details are missing. The muscles around your eyes aren’t quite in the right place and you end up looking as uncomfortable and forced as a kidnapped prisoner in a ransom video. In the same way, it’s often obvious that over the top positivity is forced and it seems a little off.

Much of this good-vibes-only culture in modern society has built up from “The Law of Attraction”; the idea that our thoughts and energy attract similar energy and experiences. So, thinking and acting positively, the theory says, will attract positive results. This was popularised by Rhonda Byrne’s book, “The Secret” in 2006 and has become a huge market in the self-help world. The myth says that we can “manifest” everything we want by asking the universe for our dreams, desires and happiness. By radiating positivity and resonating at high energy frequencies; good things—which apparently also resonate at these same high frequencies—are attracted to us. Then, when the universe appears to deliver some of these manifestations, we assume that it must have worked and double down on the vibin’ and manifesting.

Harry Style clasping his hands together and staring intently. Text reads "shut up i'm manifesting".

This pseudoscience is clever because words like “frequency”, “resonate” and “vibrations” all come from the same area of Physics. Therefore, on the surface, it sounds legit. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t science and any scientific aspects of it are bullshit. The whole thing is a pseudoscience myth aimed at selling self-help products. As it turns out, asking people to manifest their hopes and dreams by commenting “YES” on an Instagram post is an incredible way to boost social media engagement. Self-help sells because, at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to improve their lives and become happier? Fuck, even I’m running a happiness related business at the end of the day. I like to think of it as realistic happiness, but I’m sure Rhonda Byrne and Tony Robbins fully believe in the magical happiness elixir that they’re selling too. If everyone believes that they’re selling helpful products then is there actually anything wrong with this industry? More importantly, what if the toxic positivity world really is helping people? 🤔

Science, bitch.

The beauty of the manifesting myth and the market that surrounds it, is that it works so well. It’s easy to believe because we see other people that appear happy. Better yet, all we have to do to try it out is to radiate some positivity and vibrate on a higher frequency or some shit. Then, the next time that we feel a sense of joy, we think that it must have come from the vibrations and attraction energy. Wow, the universe really does listen! This is what’s known as a confirmation bias. Everyone goes through waves of high and low mood so at some point you were always going to feel happy. Only now, because you’ve actively been trying to manifest this happiness, you assume that the two events must be connected. And now that you’re making a connection, you’re suuuure that you’re happier than you normally would be. This is the same way that horoscopes work. They give a large number of generalised statements that would apply to most people. A form of confirmation bias known as subjective validation causes us to focus on and believe the things that appear to have some personal relation to us; particularly if they’re positive. Then, if something good happens in the future that vaguely relates to the horoscope then it must have been caused by the horoscope, so we believe it even more. If nothing good happened we would forget about it, keep trying other horoscopes until… Bam! One of them lines up and the future has been predicted.

A scene from Breaking Bad with Jesse and Walt sat at a kitchen table. Jesse is pointing and smiling and text on the image reads "SCIENCE BITCH!"
Who says swearing and education don’t go together?

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of the Law of Attraction. But it’s not fair to completely shit all over it as it arguably has some benefits as a placebo. As an example, let’s say that someone tries to manifest happiness and they believe in it so much that they can’t possibly imagine it not working. Then 2 days later they assume that they have to be happier because there’s no way that the manifesting couldn’t work. As a result, they probably are happier. It had nothing to do with the universe or vibrations but, in a sense, it worked. In the same way, if manifesting causes someone to take positive action and make positive changes because they believe that they have a spiritual guide helping them; then you could argue that it’s had a positive impact. Once again, this has nothing to do with spirituality or vibrations but if it gives a boost in the right direction then “you do you, honey”.

Just be aware that going all in and avoiding negativity will almost certainly come back to bite us later on. Like all good things there has to be a middle ground; a balance between being positive and not convincing ourselves that the universe has to deliver us a briefcase full of cash because we willed it to happen. I like to call this middle ground a positive mental attitude, or PMA. It’s all about staying optimistic and seeing the good wherever possible but not going overboard any throwing negative emotions out the window. It sounds like a contradiction and the balance is tough to get but with time and continued practice, it’s doable. Think of it as good vibes but not good vibes only. We must accept that not everything is roses but in general, life isn’t so bad. It’s not meant to be serious, so have some fun with it. 😊

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