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Why You Shouldn’t Aim at Being an Optimistic Person

Why You Shouldn’t Aim at Being an Optimistic Person

There is no disputing that it is important to be positive. But what most people won’t tell you about is the importance of negative emotions.

I knew a guy who was potentially the most optimistic person anyone could meet. His resilience was like no other. I shall always recall the time when someone we knew had suffered a miscarriage. He said cheerily to her, “That’s not really bad news because it means you can still get pregnant again!”

It seemed as though he was incapable of feeling anything negative. Nothing would upset him–not even tragedies where people died. Then one day, something happened–one small event triggered something within him. Suddenly, all of those years of emotions that he suppressed surfaced all at once. It resulted in him having to take several months off work as he fell into a deep depression.

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Resilience is part of being optimistic, but it doesn’t mean that they are both the same thing. And although trying to be optimistic is good, there are times when it could have an adverse effect.

Studies: one of the biggest contributors to psychological issues is emotional avoidance

It is human instinct to want to abstain from things that make us feel hurt. But repressing emotions such as sorrow leads to long-term issues such as depression or anxiety. For instance, if a loved one passed away, you should not give yourself a time limit to rush through the stages of grief.  [1]

Many studies have proven that one of biggest contributors to psychological issues is emotional avoidance.

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One such study [2] was conducted by Florida State University. Stress responses were measured by the heart rates of people who were alcohol dependent and exposed to alcohol-related cues. Those who restrained their thinking had much higher stress responses to the cues than those who did not suppress their thoughts.

Accepting and addressing bad emotions encourage a different kind of resilience. Some of these feelings have been instrumental in human survival since the dawn of time–whether it was fear (therefore the need to have better protection from danger) or the recognition that something didn’t feel good which motivated change.

How much optimism do we need? [3]

Too much or too little optimism is not healthy

There are good points to having an optimistic outlook as it helps you to identify opportunities and hope within challenging moments.

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At the same time, having no optimism at all would mean that you may be unable to see a way out of problems.

There is also an unrealistic optimism where you may be in a state of denial about negative situations. For instance, someone with a gambling problem may simply keep gambling and tell themselves that they will win eventually (despite losing large sums of money).

Acknowledge some negative emotions are necessary

There are times when negative emotions are important. If a lion ran out in front of you, your fear is what would cause your survival instinct to kick in.

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Remember you can adjust anytime

Not everything is within our control. Sometimes, you need to accept that and move forward in the best way possible–even if it is an option you do not like. You may have bought tickets to the theatre but there is a train strike. It could mean getting a taxi, and it’s ok to not feel happy about having to spend that extra money.

People who get caught in undercurrents while swimming often tend to panic and try to fight against the current, which only causes fatigue and drowning. Doing the opposite and going with the current will mean they can eventually swim back to the shore as the current will eventually weaken. Fighting against emotions that need to surface is the same.

It is ok to not feel happy or positive all the time. If you feel sad or have the need to cry–embrace it. Tears can sometimes be your body’s way of giving you a hug.

Reference

More by this author

J.S. von Dacre

Writer at Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 11, 2020

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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