Why Positive Thinking is Not Always the Way To Handle Tough Times

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is a great way to see the brighter side of things as opposed to dwelling on negative situations that we can not control. But what if there was no such thing as a bad situation? What would happen to your life if you stopped putting labels on things by allowing life to unfold a little more naturally?

You’ve probably heard all of the adages, from “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” to “Every grey cloud has a silver lining.” Positivity definitely has its place,  but simply “thinking positive thoughts” isn’t the solution to every problem. It’s not the all-encompassing tool that most of us think it is, and in some instances can do more harm than it does good.

We too often look at situations in our lives as black and white. Things are either good or bad. As humans, we are far more likely to label something as “bad” than we are to label it as “good.” This leaves us with many more negative situations that we have to deal with than positive ones.


Take, for example, the saying “Every grey cloud has a silver lining.” Grey clouds are meant to be the negative situation, and finding the silver lining is the directive to think positively even about a negative situation. When life hands us a “grey cloud” it can be perceived as something “bad”, which should be avoided. What we don’t do, however, is think critically about whether or not the cloud is something that is worth avoiding to begin with. Is it really something that needs to be salvaged into a silver lining?

I propose that grey clouds, in some cases, are better to be experienced fully and addressed accordingly instead of wasting energy focusing on the silver lining. The grey cloud or bad situation will still be there waiting for you when you come back, but if you learn how to ride the waves and deal with situations as they come, you will notice that you won’t need to look far before the positive side of things comes along. Life’s imperfections are meant to be experienced, and our greatest joys are often preceded by our toughest times.

You can most certainly recall a time in your life when something “bad” happened to you that actually turned out to be a very good thing. For example, a few years ago I suffered a pretty serious back injury that completely changed how I was able to live my life. Many of the sports and activities that occupied a big part of my passion for living were taken away. No more jogging, tennis, golf, skiing, etc. Even doing some simple things around the house were pretty tough, and this lasted for the most part of 3 years. Positive thinking was something I tried very hard to maintain by being grateful for everything good in my life.  This was very helpful, but it wasn’t long before the pain would settle back in while I wished to be physically healthy again.

It was very easy to feel down and experience a little depression about my situation, but it was this state of mind that was eventually responsible for some amazing change. After laying on the couch for weeks and months, I got sick of feeling helpless and was motivated to do something about it. Since the doctor told me that swimming was one of the only sports I could do, I made my way to the local gym, hit the pool and just started swimming. It was tough at first but after a few weeks I started getting better and was feeling some extremely positive energy. I was surprised at how much I began loving this activity, and even my back was starting to feel stronger. I also began doing Yoga, which helped my situation in stunning ways.

I needed to experience the pain in order to discover these hidden desires that now fuel me and drive me each day. I am now able to do all of the sports that I loved to do before, but swimming and yoga will always remain my main focus and I am grateful that I have discovered these amazing practices.

This wasn’t me making lemonade out of lemons. It was being able to finally deal with the situation for what it really was—which turned out not to be so bad at all, just a challenge. We have been so thoroughly programmed to see the things that happen to us as good or bad, when in reality, things are probably neither. In order to follow the traditional positive thinking train of thought, a situation must be bad and you must make the best of it. This can make a situation that you would otherwise be perfectly capable of handling into an overwhelming negative situation that you have to struggle to find the good in.

Why Positive Thinking is Not Always the Best Strategy

It is hard to avoid physical pain, which finally drove me to face my scenario head on. However, some of the painful situations we face in life are not always physical and are more easily pushed away. Emotionally taxing situations can be avoided by looking the other way or keeping ourselves distracted (overeating, alcohol, etc.)  But by being aware enough to face these tough situations without labelling them or avoiding them, we are able to learn from them as well as gain knowledge, insight and strength as we move forward.

The problem with positive thinking, in short, is this: it makes your life harder because you first must separate your life events into good and bad and then convince yourself that the bad situations are actually good. This creates far more emotional roadblocks than it helps you avoid and there’s a much better way to live. Instead of taking emotional energy and time to categorize life events and then expending even more energy to transform negative things into positive ones, in order to avoid being hurt, sad, or feeling helpless, train yourself to be mindful about the reality of the situation and accept it for what it really is.

Pretending that life is supposed to be all positive can drag you down – it’s a rabbit hole. Instead, learn to acknowledge the bad situation. Most bad things that happen to us are not life-ending. They are not as earth-shattering as they appear to be. Instead of putting our lives into good and bad compartments, learn to let your values push your forward. That way, you won’t get caught in the hunt for good aspects of negative situations. Living in the reality of each situation is where you will find the most energy. Instead of looking for that silver lining or trying to make lemonade out of that situation, start pushing ahead, actually remedying the situation, and making real tangible changes, rather than simply trying to convince yourself that what you thought was bad is actually good.

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