Are you one of those people who gets out of bed every single morning and sings “zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”? If not, here is something to remedy that….

One thing I have struggled to come to terms with over the years, is that as a trainer, author and therapist, whose main purpose in those roles has been to help others feel happier or get better, is that many people expect you to be “Mr Whoopee-doo” all the time.

What do I mean by that?

Incredibly happy, positive, without flaws, without issues, who walks though life hugging, high-fiving and chest bumping everyone encountered. The way everyone is expected to be at the end of a Tony Robbins seminar, for example, when loud music is playing and things get evangelical.

I am not suggesting that these are bad things, or bad traits or that Tony Robbins seminars are not wonderful (I know many people who love the fact that dancing and singing their way out of the event location and do not consider it to be engineered euphoria at all).

I think that there is a case for some sobriety when it comes to well-being though. Many personal development programmes offer up a sort of ‘magical thinking’ process, and suggest that we need to all have a highly enthusiastic positive thinking mindset to fully derive satisfaction and enjoyment from life. The idea that everything can have a positive spin applied to it to make it ok!

Yet a recent study suggests that perhaps, for some people, not only is positive thinking challenging but it could be harmful.

In this study by Moser et al (2014) Neural Markers of positive reappraisal and their associations with trait reappraisal and worry, participants were asked to attempt to think positively when being exposed to troubling images such as people being held at knife-point. The lead author Jason Moser states:

The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions.

This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”

He adds:

You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry — that’s probably not going to help them.

So you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”

This is research that pleases me because I am not Mr Whoopee-Doo all the time. I think people that walk through life with a seemingly botox fixed grin on their faces every waking second potentially require therapy more than the rest of us. I have days whereby I find life challenging, I get angry, I get sad, I often feel things that I intelligently realise I ought not be thinking (e.g. worry, embarrassment) but I have found that only ever trying to shout over them with something more positive can be challenging and frustrating.

For me, looking at at approaches to acceptance such ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) as well as cognitive restructuring methods used in cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy are really useful – they are sober, realistic and they also have evidence to support their use rather than just someone’s euphoria selling the virtues of them. They have value in the cold light of day away from the crowds.

This is not only true for me personally, but in my therapy rooms I have found that my clients derive more benefit when they have useable, realistic coping skills and strategies and are not just expected to thinking positively all of the time by putting a positive spin on things.

What’s more, those who struggle to put a positive spin on things as prescribed by many on the personal development field, may end up thinking that because they are not living life as Mr Whoopee-Doo, then there is clearly more wrong with them that they originally thought…

Therefore, be realistic with your expectations for yourself. Be balanced. Accept how you feel. It’s ok to be sober at times. Learn how to restructure your thoughts in a healthy fashion. Understand that part of the human condition is such that we can’t realistically just think positively 100% of the time.

Understanding that will likely make you happier 🙂  .. and lead to far less forced smiles…