Is Positive Realism an Oxymoron?

Photo of a mountain with the text over it saying: Staying positive does not mean that everything will turn out okay. Rather, it is knowing that YOU will be okay no matter how things turn out. By Rachel Jess
Quote by Rachel Jess. Stock image MS Publisher

No, Positive Realism is living in reality with joy as the foundation.

As in so many arenas of modern life, people seem to be polarized between Positive thinking and Realistic thinking, as if the two can’t coexist. One group is said to be woo-woo Pollyannas and the other is said to be mired in the negative, like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh’s world.

I believe the healthy place is in an open-eyed middle.

As a small child, I wore my emotions on my sleeve. Easy to laugh, easy to cry. Our household was chaotic with a lot of drama. I was often told, “You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about!” with a spanking and being sent to my room. So I learned to hold my emotions in, stuff them down and not let people see them.

In my mid-twenties, I realized that people around me were having a lot more fun in life than I was. A long conversation with an adviser led me to the conclusion that if I wanted to feel happiness and joy, I had to be willing to feel pain. This was not an easy road.

There was so much pain, fear, and anxiety built up over the years that I nearly drowned. But occasionally a glimpse of fun, a spark of joy, a hug of love would sneak through, and I stumbled on. As hard as those years were, they were worth it for the precious graces and joys that I now experience.

I lost friends and family in the process, but I’ve gained better friends and a loving husband. Am I happy all the time? No. Am I content all the time? Not as much as I’d like to be. But I am learning to live in joy.

How can that possibly be in this time of COVID, and joblessness, and rancorous politics and hatred from all parts of the spectrum?

I can’t subscribe to the notion that all things negative — including death — are illusions, and so need to be ignored and buried under positive thoughts. No, the negative experiences, the losses, the pain are hard lessons that we can learn from, if we so choose.

Painted signs spelling JOY
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

That choice is the key. I can hide in my fear or choose to challenge it. I can wallow in my failure and self-pity or learn from it and move on. I can change it from a roadblock to a stepping-stone, knowing that joy may be just around the corner if I’m open to it. And, having tasted the bitter, I relish the sweetness of each gift of good and blessing along the way.

My health status doesn’t allow me to get just any job during this pandemic. But I can be more creative in seeking work from home opportunities, or jobs that don’t include much people interaction. And I can certainly cut spending! That’s Positive Realism.

I can’t wave a wand to stop climate change, or even walk a beach to pick up litter. But I can clean up the trash on my own street. I can tell my elected officials that the environment is important to me. I can analyze and work to reduce my own waste. I can brainstorm ideas of how to redistribute water from flood areas to growing dry areas. Maybe repurpose oil and gas technologies to water technologies? Again, Positive Realism.

There are plenty of problems around us, big and small. My attitude in how I choose to face them is what makes the difference. Ignore them as if they don’t exist? Pretend everything is going to be great? Let them bury me in worry and fear? Give up? Or consider how much energy I’m willing to give them and then move through, over, and on.

There are good things all around. Right now. Even in the middle of all the chaos. Check out Leo Notenboom’s site Not All News is Bad. I get the free newsletter as a reminder every morning. He’s one of many voices reminding us that not all is doom and gloom.

In that same way, I can look at people as labels or try to see the human beneath, with their own hopes and fears, gifts and challenges. Our basic goals are the same; we need to look for solutions that include everyone. Positive Realism.

I have a framed artwork with the following quotation which I look at daily:

“Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.”

 —Adela Rogers St. Johns, from the book The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown.

I like this definition because it means my joy isn’t dependent on my circumstances or even my mood. It is divine, even as faith, hope and love are divine, sourced from God.

Therefore, my Positive Realism is grounded in joy, with hope that things will (eventually) get better, faith that I can endure through whatever happens, and the knowledge that love beyond all understanding will guide and sustain me.

Grace, Peace and Hugs to you!

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