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Positivity isn’t always good for you

By Jannah updated on May 11, 2021

Recently someone sent me a photo of their outdoor cat curled up in the sun on the sofa. The cat had found the opportunity, when no one was looking, to sneak in and find the comfiest spot they could to relax. It got me thinking about how humans and animals alike look for comfort whenever possible. In most areas of life we try to make things easier and less stressful.
By nature, we have the tendency to minimise effort and maximise rewards. It makes biological sense to do this, because a behaviour that takes less effort and increases rewards is a behaviour that makes the best use of our available energy. The opposite would mean a behaviour that uses energy very unproductively.
We also tend to seek physical comfort, another inclination that makes biological sense. The pursuit of comfort originates in the ‘pain and pleasure principle’. Although it may seem primitive, it is an effective mechanism of self-preservation. Without this tendency toward comfort in place, we might find ourselves in physically painful situations that prove dangerous.
This tendency is not just physical. We are also inclined to seek comfort on an emotional level. We tend to gravitate towards positive feelings, preferring to avoid the negative ones or at the very least get them over with as quickly as possible. One of the most common reasons people give me for attending counselling sessions is the wish to reduce what they perceive to be negative emotions. This is natural and to be expected. Like the cat, we seek comfort and try to avoid pain or difficulty.
But reality is not positive or negative. It is neutral, and it is not always comforting in itself. It is often painful, and by our very nature we try to turn away from this and search for comfort or pleasure as a distraction or avoidance of the pain.
But there is another way.
It involves recognising that all feelings are okay and part and parcel of living this life. Even though we tend towards comfort, it is valuable to allow time for the more negative parts of life also. You can give yourself permission to not be okay at times.
Try to give yourself time to allow all your feelings flow; don’t always rush straight to the good ones. If you are feeling stuck, try processing your feelings by talking about them, expressing them creatively, doing some focused exercise, reading up on the feelings you are going through.
The feelings we have are information for us. They tell us if we are okay or if we need to change something. If we are experiencing negative emotions, something is not right. We need time to feel this and to reflect on it to understand what is happening and why it is happening.
It may be that something needs to change in your current life, or maybe there are old feelings that still need processing. By allowing all feelings we give ourselves the chance to learn from them and to make any changes that might be needed. We might even find greater comfort for having gone through the pain.

Printed in The Mayo News on 11 May 2021