Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cry If You Want To

Back in my twenties, if I were having a hard moment, I'd turn on Holly Cole singing a song called "Cry If You Want To" on a CD called "Don't Smoke in Bed."

It starts like this:
Cry if you want to
I won't tell you not to
I won't try to cheer you up
I'll just be here if you want me
You can cry if you want to

Being given the imaginary space to feel everything I was feeling, even by a singer I'd never met singing a song she didn't write on a CD I'd listened to a thousand times, helped me feel better. It's rare, after all, to have the space to feel awful, to have a terrible day, to not be cheerful.

It must be this lack of space for the hard feelings that Barbara Ehrenreich finally got tired of when she wrote her new (best selling) book: Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. I've read a little bit about the book -- and today I read the story in the New York Times about the whole anti-positive thinking trend going on in America right now.

So, I haven't read Ehrenreich's book and I don't think I will. I just don't want to get all negative about positive thinking. OK I don't know anything about it other than what I read in The New Yorker a few years back. Yes, the whole idea of positive thinking can get treacly and tiresome. Of course a critical eye is important to maintain. Of course it's ridiculous that people don't feel they can deliver bad news or be critical at all, but I know some people who consider their opinions about everything "critical" in that way of being evaluative when, really, they're just bad news birds. If there's a grey lining in a bright white cloud, they'll be sure to find it -- because they're so critical!

It's easy to be a naysayer and it might be foolish to always look on the bright side, but there must be a sweet spot somewhere in between where you can cry if you want to and laugh a little to feel better, too. I had a whole political thing to say here, too, but since it's new year's eve, I'm going to lay off of it and wish everyone a highly nuanced, emotionally rich 2010. May it be a year of inner and world-wide peace.


Anonymous said...

IMO, the anti-positive thinkers are missing the point. For me, anyway, happiness isn't so much about sugarcoating hard realities or pretending things are fine when they aren't, but about where I choose to direct my attention more often. When I look at the things in my life that work--and there always are some, even if they're little--I tend to feel better and function better. That's all. Ever see this article:


Robin Aronson said...

you're right, lizi -- happiness, it isn't necessarily about that fleeting feeling of "happy" but more about where to shift your attention and allow it to rest.....when you think of it that way, it lets in a more nuanced set of feelings. thanks for the article--to not only find the joy within, but to let it be...a gift.

thanks! and happy new year!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting on this topic. It helped me clarify my thinking on the issue. Happy new year to you!

Robin Aronson said...

Thanks, Lizi! Here's to a wonderful year.

marjorie said...

i agree with lizi -- i think that equating the entire field of positive psychology with "pretend to be happy and you'll be happy" is pretty disingenuous. i do sometimes write about positive psych research for Self. the profs i've talked to are interested in empiricism and trying to figure out what affects happiness levels. and you can't equate them with the folks who chirp "SMILE, YOU'LL FEEL BETTER!" and "A POSITIVE ATTITUDE CAN BEAT CANCER!" -- to tar the science with the pop-culty stuff is manipulative.

Robin Aronson said...