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The power of positivity

Human flourishing and optimal functioning.


Courage, optimism, gratitude, acceptance, resilience…these are the things that spring to mind when we think of someone with a positive mental attitude, someone who embodies positivity. This isn’t about wishy-thinking or naivety. This isn’t about ignoring negativity and burying your head in the sand. It’s so easy to default to the opposite of positivity – and I tend to have this natural inclination to do so – rationalise it with examples (and there’s some utility to that) and bemoan the time and place in the cosmos you inhabit.


This is NOT positivity.

Positivity, and the proper path forward, is a genuine attempt to confront the malevolence of existence with a courageous attitude, to mould yourself a resilient entity (not just a shell – all the way to the core) through the highest human spirit of hope and faith in humanity. There’s an acceptance of reality and your limitations, a gratitude for what you have and don’t have, and an optimism for the future to be better than the way things are currently.

American psychologist Martin Seligman pioneered this new domain of “Positive Psychology” in the late 90’s primarily as a counter to the heavy focus on mental illness, maladaptive behaviour and negative thinking. Positive psychology focuses on positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) as the building blocks for resilience and wellbeing. As a gamer I find this slightly ironic given that “perma” is normally followed by “death”, which fails to elicit any positive emotions at all. However, this shift towards a scientific study of human flourishing – rather than human declining – can be best viewed as a complementary and applied approach to optimal functioning.


“Somewhere the Greeks are shouting we’ve known about ‘eudaimonia’ for thousands of years!”


Naturally, there are multiple levels of analysis such as positive experiences/relationships, positive individual states/traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positivity requires the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “this sounds all nice, but…” – and there’s always a but – where does a human like this exist outside The Dalai Lama? Like a number of things, it’s easy to say, but difficult to act out. Consider this another way and ask yourself these questions: What are you aiming at? Where is your attention going? What’s the quality of your attention? Is it sharp and clear or is it fractured and fuzzy?


I like to think of sport as one of these positive institutions, an avenue to the unification of humanity of which we have three massive upcoming events – NBA Finals, Euros and the Olympics. Sports help to facilitate PERMA (see above). Obviously most of us do not reach professional level, but there are plenty of reasons why we (and our children) watch and partake in sports on a weekly basis – and it’s not to keep the capitalist machine running!


A significant amount of positivity is in response to negativity rather than arising by itself. For instance, I love it when a community comes together in response to devastation. Recently, we’ve had some terribly destructive storms/tornados in my area (we were less than 1km away from its path) and to see people band together to provide help, clear debris, fix houses and buildings, provide shelter for those displaced etc is heart-warming to say the least. It’s almost like there’s this instinctual rebuilding ethic of human beings akin to mythological death and rebirth and the phoenix rising from the ashes. I think a lot of this speaks to the power of positivity, our ability to be courageous and resilient creatures with a tenacious spirit.


I only recently wrote about engaging with life, I mean, that’s what life is fundamentally about – engagement. Experiencing the highs (and lows), building long-lasting relationships with people, developing a sense of self and meaning that goes along with it, achieving success, finding contentment and reaching peace.


A quality of life worth striving for.

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