“Positivity is baloney, this trait is immeasurably better.”

Popular opinion seems to skew towards the benefits of surrounding yourself with positivity.

Meaning, surround yourself with people who tell you things like this:

  • “You can do anything you put your mind to!”
  • “You should do whatever you want, who cares what anyone else thinks!”
  • “Those people don’t like what you’re saying/doing because they’re haters.”
  • “You’re so amazing. There is nothing at all wrong with what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it. You’re just perfect.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason. Whatever happens happens. Don’t worry about it. It will happen the way it’s supposed to.”

But that’s akin to surrounding yourself with “yes men.” History has numerous examples to prove this is not a good idea.

You probably agree as well when you’re looking at it from an objective point of view that doesn’t involve you and your ego.

A better idea, and unfortunately not popular opinion, is to surround yourself with honesty. It’s a rare trait in a friend or colleague and, as a result, much more valuable. Most people are afraid to be honest with you. (Maybe even that person who tells you they’re being honest with you.)

When you find someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth cherish them. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to act on what they tell you. But listen, cherish, and appreciate them. They’re helping you more than the yes men.

22 Responses to “Positivity is baloney, this trait is immeasurably better.”

  1. I think the way you frame positivity is a bit “new-agey”. I consider myself a positive person, and for me that means I tend to look for the positive side in all things, not that I think everything is perfect (I would call that immature or naive).

    For example, if something doesn’t happen as expected or I “fail”, instead of dwelling on feelings of failure, I appreciate the lesson learned and move on.

    Whiny people are frustrating.

    I do agree honesty is more valuable though. I’ve always been an honest person, and for the longest time I found it hard to understand why that was such a big issue for most people.

    Anyway, thanks for the food for thought :)

    • You make a good point. I was attacking new-agey advice so I approached it from that frame.

      I’m positive as well, though I’m more of a realist than an optimist. I know I can do a lot of “impossible” things if I focus on them. But not everything always goes well and things don’t happen for a reason (in the “it’s God’s plan” sense).

      Thanks Ivan.

  2. Karol, I agree with you. The difficulty comes in those individuals who tell their honest opinion every time. Their opinion isn’t always right. Nonetheless, these people can be valuable friends as well, as long as they respect the opinions of others and are willing to change if presented with “the truth”. A good healthy discussion of opinions is good for the heart! Sometimes that’s what we need as we’re searching for truth and honesty.

    • Yes, an unprompted honest opinion is not what I’m talking about. I should have made that more clear. What I mean here is, if you ask someone what they think (which is what we do with our close friends) it doesn’t behoove you to get a, “oh I love it it’s great you are amazing everything’s going to go outstandingly well for you” answer if that’s not the reality.

  3. Karol, I agree. So many people are living their life as a slogan. And it is living in denial! If that light at the end of a tunnel is actually a train, you need to know about it. If I haven’t recognised it, I’d want a friend or colleague to point it out to me. Butt-kisser ‘yes friends’ serve no useful purpose. :)

  4. I am a positive person and I do believe you can do almost anything you put your mind to. As an example, two years ago my son couldn’t reach down and touch his toes from a standing position and now he is a contortionist training for Cirque. (That began with a thought, which he follows each day with hours of practice)

    I understand what you are saying. Authenticity and honesty are wonderful traits – very refreshing to experience. The fact that they are refreshing shows how rare they are. I appreciate honesty very much so; although what I do not like is when people use “I’m just being honest” as they deliver a scathing criticism meant to wound. Much like you don’t like new-agey positivity, I don’t like people using “honesty” as a cover for pure meanness.

    • “I don’t like people using “honesty” as a cover for pure meanness.”

      Of course not. I’m not saying a good friend is someone who tells others what they think about everything unprompted. But we have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear. I do this too, partly because it’s very difficult finding people who will tell me what I need to (or am afraid to) hear.

    • “I do believe you can do almost anything you put your mind to.”

      The key word here is almost. New-agey (or whatever you want to call it) philosophy does not seem to know that word. There is a vast difference between “you can do almost anything” and “you can do anything.” The reality is, not everybody can or will be millionaires or billionaires or basketball stars or Nobel Prize winners. I think most humans are capable of doing far more than they think they can. But there are always caveats. Positivity for the sake of positivity isn’t particularly helpful.

      Thanks Joy. I always appreciate our email/comment convos.

  5. Sometimes when a friend asks advice about a complex issue, the best advice that can be tendered is, “I’m not qualified to provide that advice, I recommend you see a [insert]”.

    • Yes, “I don’t know” is also often an acceptable answer. Though if I’m asking a close friend about something I want their opinion because I trust it.

  6. Yep, I understand Karol. My comment had quite a fine point on it. Sometimes people can suffer significant emotional blows in their life (eg. marriage break up, death of a spouse etc) that really necessitate more professional advice than that from a lay-person friend. By all means, be there for a friend but some persons in a highly emotional state can waste hours of their friend’s time wanting to talk through their situation. I find it better in that instance to try and guide them to someone better qualified to assist them with advice.

    What I said might sound mean, but it’s not meant to appear that way.

    Btw, still love ya work Karol. :)

    • No worries, I didn’t take it as mean. I agree with you.

      You’ve actually brought up another issue that deserves its own essay. Specifically the massive industry of unqualified charlatans who try to diagnose and treat mental and emotional issues.

      • Yes, yes, yes, Karol! That’s my pet gripe. Unqualified people advocating unicorn tears, herbal drops and/or ‘power crystals’ as treatment for conditions of the mind.

        Here’s a classic example from a [deidentified] person’s rant on Facebook this week.

        “I almost guarantee that those that commit suicide do so because they’ve been prescribed so called “legal drugs” by psychs and doctors that easily write “anti”depressants scripts. These Pharmacutical companies are very clever. The direct cause of millions dying unneccesary. http://cchr.org is one of the most incredible sites to find truth. Do you know how many suicide because of prescriptions?? Big Pharma loves it, more money, more victims,more prescriptions and the show goes on, while they’re raking in the millions leaving behind a nightmare for family and friends to deal with loss, but then another possible prescription for them to?.”

        Those people are plain dangerous and because they peddle their unsupported drivel to the vulnerable.

        • Yeah, although the health industry in the US is broken, your friend has a delusional view of reality and has likely never been clinically depressed. The beauty of science and medicine is that it’s not perfect and it doesn’t claim to be. People will die due to mistakes (though they’ll die without medication as well). But from those mistakes we’ll learn things that will keep more people alive. (Whether that’s a good idea is a whole other issue!)

        • Another way to look at it: if someone is suicidal and you give them medicine that doesn’t stop them from committing suicide does that mean it’s the Doctor’s / Pharmaceutical company’s fault?

  7. The yoga tradition that I studied has “positive thinking” as one of it’s five pillars. And until I understood what it meant I was pretty put of by it. Of course the new-agey practitioners of our tradition will interpret it the way you describe here, but those that actually read the words of the guru will discover that he didn’t mean wishful thinking, but meant that acknowledging the hard and negative is fine, but that you should spend your time thinking and working on things that you can actually change towards a good outcome and that you should practice gratitude, noticing where the good is in the world.

    Of course the way the guru titled that pillar was positive thinking and meditation. I wonder why the meditation part is often left out? Could it be that meditation is harder than wishful thinking? ;)

    By the way, do you still do your gratitude practice? How is/has that gone for you?

    • I support that.

      Gratitude: I stopped using my iOS device so I stopped using my app so I stopped the daily gratitude after about 2 years. Thanks for reminding me I need to find an Android app to use. :)

    • An interesting read is “The mindfulness solution to pain’ by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix. It is all about meditation as a form of healing chronic pain (though they encourage more of the ‘be in the now’ as well). No positive thinking really, just awareness and meditation, with interesting case studies to back up how the chemical processes in our body support this behaviour.

  8. It’s been my experience, as the honest friend, that my honest opinion is not always appreciated or valued and that a greater proportion of people can’t handle that kind of straightforwardness. I enjoy being able to be truthful in all things with people, but find that it is only with certain people that I can be myself in that way. I prefer people treat me that way as well but it’s rare to find someone that can be so direct with me as well. The couple friends I have that can do it, are people I would trust implicitly to make good choices on my behalf if ever I could not for myself. They may not agree with my decisions or choices but as completely honest friends, they would honour mine!

    • I know what you mean. The issue is what Brad stated. Most people don’t actually want your honest thoughts.

      Next time, try something like, “Do you really want me to be honest or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear? You might not like my honest thoughts and I don’t want to make you upset.”

  9. Jenn, I find that when friends say, “I want you to be straight with me”, it really means, “I want your gratuitous flattery”.

    As tough as it is, my personal policy is that I’d rather help a friend by being straight them about important issues (and risk losing them), rather than avoid saying something and seeing them come undone.

  10. Good post Karol,

    I only surround myself with honest, sometimes brutally honest people.

    Yes sometimes it is not enjoyable, but that is what true friends are!

    All this positivity is usually designed to provide excuses to you.

    i.e “Your not fat your just big boned”.