Friday, February 13, 2015

Happiness, Honesty & Humor: Staying Positive

This week's prompt was to elaborate on how we stay positive. Most times I have read blogs on a similar theme, the result tends to be about keeping a cheerful disposition, avoiding bad moods, or circumventing the willingness to experience negative emotions like anger, sadness, or fear.

I think we need a more complicated view than the whole positive/negative binary. That's why I chose the picture at left. This was the morning I ran a marathon, in January 2014. In the picture, taken around 12 miles in, I look blissful, and I am. I am also in mild pain, and fighting to maintain bodily control and pace.

I have never felt more positive, more optimistic and powerful and full of life. But it would be wrong to say that it was all ease and happiness. I also felt scared that I wouldn't last the distance, or that the pain would become too much to continue, and irritated that no member of my blood family had--or probably would ever--attended a race in which I ran. These were not mutually exclusive experiences, but deeply interwoven ones. I am not sure we need to stay positive, so much as we need to maintain a balance of light and dark.

So, I'd say the first part of restoring balance, for me, is: STOP FAKING IT

When I am happy, I share it. When I am not, I try to keep it relatively quiet, but I also don't lie about it. I moderate the range of my moods and experiences for the sake of others, but I have long since stopped trying to show people the face I think they want to see. I am just guessing anyway, and in trying to be what other people want, it's easy to lose sight of what matters.

Then again, all those things that matter can pile up and create an avalanche of stresses and feelings and obstacles to accomplishment and positivity. The weight of the world, and all of that. So, I let myself have my feelings in the moment, but I try not to dwell in negative ones. I use outside stimulus to break bad moods, and it often takes very little time or distraction to do so.

Second strategy: HAVE A LAUGH, or at least a real smile

I could pretend I'm a super-altruist and say that it's often charity work* or some other lovely human pursuit that makes the world's pain manageable again, but more often it's something silly, largely meaningless and transitory; a stand-up comedian's rant watched on Netflix; compilations of cute animals on YouTube; a nice sugar-free raspberry latte; something ridiculous my dog does.

It's simple, but entirely effective. Laughter breaks negative moods, and makes it easier to get out of the self-absorption that really creates (at least my) bad feelings and negativity.

As Sloan says to Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: sooner or later, everyone goes to the zoo.
It's going to be hard sometimes, and we all get overwhelmed. Maybe the darkness is in ourselves, or reaches a saturation in the world that permeates our consciousness for a while. Maybe a student has a terrible day or experience and it spreads over into our lives.  Other times, it's just been a long week. Whatever the reason, we all get to that place.

And right now, I'm about to demonstrate the third (because: rule of three) and final strategy for maintaining positive/negative balance: TAKE A BREAK

At the end of the day, we are all fighting highly specific versions of the same human battles. Sometimes, we just need to set down the shield and sword for a while and go for a walk in the sun. Lucky are we who can do so. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is nothing. So here's to a happy holiday weekend, full of a lot of whatever brings a little light into everyone's individual darkness.

*Note: Charity work is great, and I have done some, and it does make everything feel a little better. It is, however, more of a mixed bag of feels, and not as readily accessible as a latte. Also, I am a terrible person.