— Ivan W. Lam (@IvanWLam) February 6, 2015
Positivity Frees Me to Live My Best.
First Big Failure at Positivity
I began my freshman year of college with the goal to be happy in life. I even posted a handwritten sign in my new dorm room that read, “Be happy.” with a smiley face on each side. It was mostly a well-intentioned goal with very little strategy to achieve it. I thought that just thinking those two words was all I needed to achieve a happy life. But after months of doing that and failing again and again, I fell into some type of self-diagnosed depression that took me a year and a half to fully get out of.
A More Practical Challenge to Be Positive
In my post-college job search, I came across the advice to always communicate to potential employers in a positive manner, both in writing and in speech. This seems very obvious now, but it felt like a radical idea then. To turn any sort of potentially negative thing about my job history or competence into a positive trait felt game-changing. Sure, it was difficult at first to shift my thinking. But by learning to catch myself every time I had a negative thought and turning it around, I was able to naturally apply this thinking in both my professional and personal life. Now whenever I encounter a difference in opinion with someone on a particular topic, I can more easily stay open-minded, avoid immediately defending my side, and try to understand from their point of view.
When I was in middle school, I learned to be sarcastic and loved using it as my humor of choice. But since I was also very literal and logical, people sometimes confuse my sarcasm as my real feelings, especially in online conversations, so I came off as serious or arrogant. I struggled with this well into my twenties until I decided, as part of my goal to think positively, to stop using it in most of my jokes, and to reserve it only for people I am very close with and only when it is completely understood that I am just joking and that I mean well. As a result, I feel that the relationships with people around me are healthier, especially when they are free of worries that what I say may be misunderstood as insults or destructive criticism.
In recent years, I also made my best effort to dramatically reduce the use of the word “not” (and “no”, “nothing”) from any sort of serious, professional, formal, or “recorded” forms of communication. I did this partly because when I reread work emails, I sound like such a downer, simply because of all the “not”s! I know that “not” can still be used describe something positive and that there are other ways to be negative than using “not”. But to me, it’s an effective exercise to pivot negative ideas. Sure, it may take more time and words to circumvent around the idea to avoid using “not”, which is why I still use it when I need to communicate quickly, but the practice is paying off as I’ve gotten better at communicating more positively and constructively over time.
While I want to say that every post of A Number of Things is free of the word “not” and any of its variations, I noticed that a few of the earliest posts as well as 9 used that word many times. (To be fair, I wrote 9, along with 7, 8, and 10, during my Little Big Trip around the world, so I had less time to “positivity filter” what I wrote.) Still, I wrote the rest of the posts with a very active effort to stay as “not”-free as I can. “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel” from 13 is an exception because it’s a common phrase. I actually thought about “positivizing” it but that would go against the very message I wanted to express; I would be reinventing the wheel.
On Positivity and Negativity
Of course, there is plenty of bad things happening in the world. But there are also good. To quote one of my favorite movies/series, The Matrix Revolutions, when the Oracle tells Neo about the antagonist Smith, “He is you, your opposite, your negative, the result of the equation trying to balance itself out.” There will always be bad things where there are good things.
Assuming we want to be the good, the question becomes: how do we want to interact with the bad? By villifying, mocking, and attacking the enemy and rejoicing at their failures? Or by showing through example that positivity does more people more good? This may seem too idealistic for global human crises in today’s world, but is it better to think more like “an eye for an eye”?
To illustrate this point, this video came just in time. This is my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year:
1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 12 17, 22.