Shining Some Light on Positivity

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Even those randos from my astronomy lecture–who barely know me–know that I’m a pretty positive person. I’m often smiling and cheerful. I try to look on the bright side of life and lift people up when they’re not at their happiest. Many of my friends use my name and the the word “optimism” interchangeably.

I’m not any sort of expert, but I know a fair amount about maintaining a positive attitude.

But lately, I’ve seen a lot of articles about positivity. It’s presented as some sort of fad, like the acai berry diet or worse, Crocs. To be fair, obsessing over positivity seems better than eating multiple meals of fake-sounding fruit or wearing rubbery shoes with holes in them. But getting too obsessed and misinterpreting positivity is just as foolish.

Some people think being positive is as easy as forcing a smile and Tweeting an inspirational quote (or two). At the other extreme, others say being positive is about being happy 24/7, no matter what happens. Both of these seem pretty off the mark. My fellow optimists would probably agree, a positive attitude stems from a lot more than a few pop-lyric tweets and a constant fake smile that borders on creepy.

Why this sudden desire for positivity anyway? Maybe it’s a way of dealing with the increasingly pessimistic view of the world and the times we live in, or maybe it’s just from new psychological research. But like all things that become popular, positivity has been skewed from its real meaning and purpose.

It’s impossible to be a smiling ray of sunshine all the time. If you were, people would probably avoid ever speaking to you. Let’s be real: Sometimes life gets frustrating or awful things happen. When I don’t do well on a test, get into a fight with a friend or get sick right at the peak of finals, it’s difficult to feel hopeful about the situation. In those times, a kind “Be positive! It’s not so bad!” can be extremely irritating. A lot of times, the proverbial “it” is bad. There are situations where the dark significantly outweighs the light. The important thing is to remember that there’s a light, even if it’s just a small speck. If not in the situation itself, perhaps in something that will arise from it.

The way I see it, positivity is more about the effort than the success. It’s about trying to search for the good parts of life, and realizing that even though life is hard right now, you’re going to be okay. No one can be happy all the time, and trying to be can send you into an even steeper downward spiral.

Exams are stressful, but they’ll be over soon. Breakups are hard, but you still have so many wonderful friends. Horrible things are happening in the world, and yet there’s still so much love. Being positive can be beneficial, but you don’t have to define yourself as an optimist. The best you can do is think about the good things and always search for the light.

Caitlin is a senior English and Theatre major at Boston College. She likes books, theatre, and inspirational quotes, and knows way too much about cheese.

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