On Being Positive

A Twitter friend took me gently to task for a recent post about being cheerful, reminding me that those afflicted by depression often see in such postings an exhortation to ‘buck up’ or ‘cheer up’, as though it were in their power to do so. Anyone who has had any personal experience of depression, whether in themselves or in another, knows what an impossibility that is. Perhaps, however, there is something to be said for trying to be positive.

For once, the dictionary is not the best place to start one’s reflection. If you look, you’ll find that although the word derives from the Latin ponere, to put, it very soon acquired a more specific meaning than the one I should have liked it to have had (‘constructive’). It is all to do with law and being very definite, allowing no questions. That kind of being positive can be extremely dangerous. Happily, many people do use the word ‘positive’ in my preferred sense of ‘constructive’. So what does it mean to be positive/constructive? What effect does it have, on oneself and on others?

In the first place, I think it means guardianship of one’s thoughts and emotions so that what one says or does is not destructive of anyone or anything. It is very easy to allow a careless word or look to convey negativity. Taking the shine off another’s joy is mean by any standards, but who among us has never done that? The frown, the sarcastic retort, they are all potentially destructive, however much we may want to excuse them to ourselves. I think being positive also means taking notice of what is going on around us. How often do we get to the end of the day and realise that the sins of omission have formed a deep litter all around us, and we never noticed! We simply weren’t available to anyone except ourselves. Sometimes, I regret to say, that unavailability extends to God. The prayers we have said are rather like the tax collector’s in the Gospel: said to ourselves not to Him.

There is another side to being positive which I myself have found helpful although it is almost embarrassingly obvious to mention. It is the recognition that whatever may be the consuming anxiety or irritation of the moment, it is transitory. We are children of eternity, although we sometimes act otherwise. Death, illness, injustice, we must face them all, but if we can pause, even for a moment, and register that what we feel now is not necessarily what we shall feel always, there is room for hope and an acceptance that may transform the situation in which we find ourselves. God wills only our good. Being positive opens us up to that — and to Him.

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10 thoughts on “On Being Positive”

  1. Thank for your insightful comments Sister.

    You always make me think – no bad thing!

    I shall try and be positively constructive for the rest of the day!

  2. Thank you for that! Putting things into perspective by recognising the very transitoriness of our feelings is often possible even where “pulling oneself together and cheering up” is not. A process perspective, and the knowledge that God always wills our good, can be a source if not of cheerfulness, then of strength. To quote Pope John XXIII: “Giovanni, don’t take yourself so seriously”.

  3. Hm, while agreeing with all you say in relation to depression it still doesn’t help. I have suffered from severe clinical depression since 1999 that cost me at 47 the rest of my working life as a clergyman. I am through the worst but still live in a very fragile mental world. I have never known cheerfulness in my entire life it is an alien concept to me – unexperienced and incomprehensible.

    Nevertheless even in darkest times when I was semi catatonic and spent weeks planning different ways to die in every waking moment – I knew that God was with me. Although I couldn’t stop the thoughts, the outbursts, the negativity and hatred of all things I knew The Lord was there with me. I could feel Him. My faith never wavered.

    Having said all that – my glass has always been half full never half empty.

    How many of these traits of gentleness, cheerfulness being positive are innate?

    A very helpful blog post as always.
    Bless you

  4. To look at depression as the opposite of joy, i.e. positive versus negative, can be a dangerous slope as sister pointed out looking at the definition of positive. It is very much comparable and related to good versus bad.

    I look at depression and negative thoughts as an absence of The Good. Yes, The Good is God! I believe I am describing the same thought process from a different perspective as discussed by sister and others. I’ve come to appreciate Paul’s invitation to pray continuously. I’ve come to a point where prayer is not about asking for “something”, but being in His presence listening to Them {Father and Son} talk about me in Pure Love {The Holy Spirit} which They share in order to guide me in Them throughout the course of the life I am given to deal with and learn to be Them. Consequently, any “desire” in my prayer is that ALL will come to “REALize” Him in their unique way, too.

    To give my thoughts about the question of the “innate traits” of being positive, I to go back to The Source. I know everyone is created in His image and likeness without exception. I look at depression as the longing to be like and with The Whom I’m connected in a very real way. It is not a bunch of mental “gymnastics”. It is a reality, The Eucharistic Reality – Jesus, which sustains any journey to a peacefulness beyond any “human” solution or intervention.

    Another comforting thought is we all have some degree of depression including Jesus! Look at His prayer in the garden before His crucifixion to name one instance in His life. You can feel the longing, desire, and love He “PRESENTs” to His Father. However, the answer is to carry on because through His (and our) “facing” these crucifixion moments we can see how all the “negative” is stripped away and all that is left is The Positive, The Good, True Love!

    I do pray for those experiencing the agony of severe depression. Please find faith and hope in His Love!

  5. Joe while I appreciate your post it is clear that you have thankfully no experience of endogenous clinical depression. That is a serious illness.

    It has nothing to do with reactive depression or feeling depressed.

  6. Your post on being cheerful disturbed me a little also, mostly because “cheerfulness” is often taught to girls merely as a social obligation or a way of cultivating popularity, but with no real substance (think perky social butterfly who is a fair weather friend). The word “positive” is better, but, again, can be taken to an extreme where it becomes cowardly and destructive (e.g., when being positive about a spouse makes you tolerate his alcoholism, which is affecting your children’s welfare). I know from experience that forcing oneself to be as positive as possible when mildly or moderately depressed is helpful (doesn’t work at all in deep depression, though) because it allows you to take solace in the fact that you can at least do SOMETHING that will be useful and kind and helpful to others, and that you aren’t entirely a failure as a human being. One last thing, when I was seventeen, I had an epiphany that my extreme shyness was often interpreted by others (who were often as vulnerable in their way as I was in mine) as dislike and rejection. That motivated me to very slowly and painfully overcome shyness as much as possible. Wanting to please God and stop hurting others is what motivated me, and acting more cheerful and positive when appropriate is what I needed to do, but it had substance behind it. Whew, sorry for the lengthy post! Thanks for listening, and God bless you Digitalnun; you do more good than you can ever imagine.

  7. If I can’t be cheerful or positive, I remind myself to be thankful. It’s the very least I can do in recognizing the many blessings God has given me. It helps. – Jean

  8. Worth repeating I think.
    Even when I was in the darkest place my mind could go and under psychiatric care – I never doubted or lost the knowledge and feeling that God was there beside me – not for one second. We shared that darkness together for we can never be where He can’t reach us.

  9. As said, it is important here to distinguish between long term, serious depression and milder anxiety and depression that can afflict any of us at any time.

    It is easy for us to get trapped in nonconstructive cycles of thinking, telling ourselves over and over how we are useless, hopeless, everything is pointless, and surprising how readily this can slide into thinking that life isn’t worth living. It can be very tough to break these patterns and focus on the constructive and the positive – but as cognitive behavioural therapy and other talking treatments show, it can be effective.

    I think faith can play a big part in such a recovery and change of thinking. The idea of letting God down so much, if you chose to end it all, is it a pretty good incentive to persevere with prayer and life; even if it doesn’t seem quite worth it for yourself, and you can’t find how to embrace the idea of Jesus cheering you on.

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