I was recently having a conversation with someone who wants to focus on positivity in her life, and at one point in our talk she brought up some negative feelings, then quickly startled and said, “I really should be positive though.” But then we both laughed. Believing we always have to be positive, placing a should on there, will make the whole endeavor slip through our fingers.
By making our desire to be positive inflexible, as the only acceptable state of being, we end up turning positivity itself, the very thing we are after, into a negative reinforcer. When we think we must be positive all the time, then any thought or emotion that feels negative becomes tabu and as proof of failure. This is Zen at its finest. The closer you think you have gotten to Zen, the further away you are from Zen. An inflexible attitude of positivity will end up leading to negativity.
The mindful path is to consider valid whatever thought or emotion enters our awareness. It’s positively reinforcing to congratulate ourselves for having the courage to face them all squarely and honestly. The paradox is that even though some thoughts or emotions might feel bad, our open, mindful attitude towards them makes us feel good about the experience. Being an accepting, mindful observer helps transform negativity into positivity.