Friday, May 24, 2024

The Light is Fantastic—stay positive

The fourth in a series about my personal values. Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here.

I write about some heavy shit on this blog. If you were a casual observer passing through you might think I was a grim, moralizing figure discontented with the world. An old man shouting at clouds.

That’s quite far from the truth. I’m a pretty cheery person. I laugh a lot. I appreciate what I have, and the world around me.

From time to time I find myself dwelling on darkness. But much/most of the time I’m happy. That’s because I work at it. A baseline state of optimism is so important to me that it’s become one of my values: Stay positive.

No one wants to hang out with bitter cynics. We all view the world through a glass darkly from time-to-time, but I’m talking about the types who complain about everything and can no longer see beauty, or realize how lucky they are to be alive.

Anger has a purpose, and a place. It’s a human emotion, and so needs expression. But I don’t think it’s a healthy default position. Anger also has proven ill effects on your health, not just mental but physical.

A much better way to live is a state of positivity, and general optimism.

I wasn’t always this way. And today from time to time I get angry and frustrated at the world, even flirting with despair. But I have discovered ways to break out of the malaise.

One is through engagement with my deep and abiding interests, including fantasy fiction and heavy metal. 

It might sound odd but something like a good Robert E. Howard story—even a really fucking grim tale like “Red Nails”—elevates my spirits, by stunning me with a reminder of the incredible human capacity to create beautiful art. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin or a nasty Stephen King short story elevates me, by transporting my mind elsewhere. As does blasting Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

I need fantasy, as an antidote to humdrum realities and worldly responsibilities. It hits the reset button.

Another way to break out is through human connection—spending time with my wife and family, and when I can find it, my friends. When I have my old friend Wayne over for a couple beers at the bar, and we talk about current times and the old times, and music, life is good. As is spending any time with my old man, still kicking at 80. Engaging with other people gets you out of your own head.

We need fantasy, AND we need human connection. I’m a big believer in balance. Which also keeps you positive. 

If you want to cultivate more positivity in your life, one practical tip is starting a gratitude journal. I’ve been keeping one every day since early 2017 (M-F religiously, sometimes on Saturday. I’ve got a basic template if you want it). Write down three things you are grateful for every morning. This also serves the purpose of recording the high points and best memories of my life, which I can then reflect back on at the end of the year (and blog about here).

Gratitude journaling was/is huge for me. I cannot recommend it enough. It pulled me out of some dark times in my life. You can quite literally retrain your brain, teaching it to focus on the positive over the negative aspects of life (which are inevitable, and real). The positive becomes more noticeable.

One recent example: I run a monthly Happy Hour for my company. We’re a small company, 100% remote, with 43-odd internal staff. Sometimes I get 28-30 on a given call, other times its only 16-17. Years ago I would have thrown up my hands at the low turnout, and called into question, “why am I bothering with this?” Now my default position is, “everyone here is having a great time—and so am I! Cool. Can’t wait for the next one.” 

I also recommend regular exercise. Lift some weight man, and get out for walk. Endorphins work wonders.

The best antidote to negativity is fostering mindfulness. Our greatest source of misery is our own thoughts. The mere act of noticing your thoughts and shifting your attention elsewhere, to the present, rather than ruminating on crap from the past you cannot change or an uncertain future, will shift your mind from negative to the positive.

In summary:

There is too much negativity in the world. Twitter has forgotten that life is beautiful. Adopt a positive mindset. Rather than attacking others, assume the best in other people and treat them well. It’s a better operating system; it also makes you a more likeable person.


BrianC said...

This is great, and just what I needed to read this morning.

I think people forget that some "positive people" don't come by it naturally, and they have to work at it. We all could do better in that regard.

I'm naturally negative, think catastrophically, and look for the risks in everything. That doesn't mean I can't wrench the steering wheel to the positive side as much as possible.

Thanks for the reminder.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I try to work on gratitude. Especially when there is day-job stress. I have a great job and need to remind myself of that when I'm in the trenches, sometimes.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments dudes. BrianC, I appreciate the observation that this isn't easy--it's not, especially in this age of unending media-driven and social media-driven catastrophies and shit storms (plus the real ones, that in a pre-internet age we would not have known about/been reminded of 24-7). It takes work.

Joakim Waern said...

I needed this. You put it in such simple words. Personally I would some I'm a curious and positive human being, but life (events and people) has a tendency to suppress those qualities. Maybe I should start writing that gratitude journal you mention. Would be lovely if you shared your template! All the best from Sweden!